WannaCry, the ransomware attack that a few weeks ago infected more than 300 thousand computers worldwide, has highlighted how fragile computer security is, constantly threatened by numerous viruses and malware, increasingly sophisticated and difficult to block.
Hacker attacks have always been there, since the advent of the Internet. But in recent years, also due to the use of connected devices in any field, they have grown exponentially. And then there is also another fact to consider behind this incredible proliferation: the reasons. There are, in fact, a number of economic and especially political reasons behind most hacker attacks. Today, many experts claim, governments fight not with firearms, but with computer violations. Having said this brief premise, let's try now to reconstruct the most sensational hacker attacks in history.
One of the oldest hacker attacks, and the first to cause an uproar, was the Morris Worm, which was named after its creator, Robert Tapas Morris, a student at Cornell University. The guy had developed the worm not to trigger a malicious computer breach, but to measure the vastness of cyberspace. However, when the virus was put on the net, Morris' code, after encountering an error, turned into a malware capable of infecting more than 6000 computers and causing damages that, according to some estimates, reached 100 million dollars. A staggering amount of money for the time.
In 2009, hackers targeted Google China, penetrating the Californian company's servers. The cybercriminals, using multiple worms, managed to unhinge the security system of Big G, stealing a series of confidential information. In particular, Google realized that cybercriminals had compromised the Gmail accounts of many American, European and Chinese activists engaged in defending human rights in the most populous country in the world.
NASA and State Department
In 1999, Jonathan James, a 15-year-old boy, managed to hack into the computers of NASA and the US State Department. The young man was able to spy on thousands of e-mails, containing many confidential documents, including passwords of military devices, by installing a backdoor on the servers of the Space Agency and the State Department. Through the stolen data, James also got hold of a piece of code of a NASA program.
Melissa was one of the worst viruses that ever hit Microsoft Word. The malicious code acted by infecting Redmond's text program and then spread by sending itself as an e-mail attachment to the first 50 contacts registered in Outlook, the e-mail management software installed on the compromised machines. Melissa was able to cause about 80 million dollars of damages.
Computer war between Russia and United States
We are in 1982 and at that time Internet was a tool for few chosen people and used mostly in military field. And already at that time the two main world military powers began to use information technology as a weapon to strike each other. The CIA, in fact, managed to penetrate the computer systems of a Siberian gas pipeline, installing a malicious code. When the program was activated, it crashed the system that controlled the gas pumps, causing a pressure increase and finally causing the explosion of the entire energy structure.
Credit Cards and Accounts
In the 2000s, it was the users' data that came under fire. A group of Ukrainian and Russian hackers from 2005 to 2012 acted undisturbed, stealing millions of banking information. It is estimated that cyber criminals were able to collect 160 million data connected to credit cards and 800 thousand credentials to access the victims' bank accounts, which were then auctioned on the web. According to the data, the data stolen by the hackers was worth more than 300 million dollars.
In 2011, many computer security experts were astonished when they discovered that for 5 years, from 2006 to 2011, a virus had managed to spread like wildfire through a simple email attachment. The malicious code, identified by Symantec, a well-known company specializing in cybersecurity, struck immediately after the victim opened the attachment, leaving no trace. Once installed on the machines, ShadyRat was able to take over all the files stored on the infected computers, including those of important international institutions and organizations.
Also in 2011, another sensational attack took place, the first of its kind. The users of the Sony videogame console were the ones who were hit by the hackers. The cybercriminals, in fact, broke the PSN, the PlayStation Network, a system that allows members to play online with other players. The data of some 77 million users, including many sensitive information such as passwords and credit cards, was put at serious risk by the cyber breach. As a result, Sony was forced to suspend the servers, inviting subscribers to change their login details.
Attack on Israeli computer systems
And we close with one of the most dangerous attacks, considering the targeted target: Iranian nuclear power plants. Israel and the United States reportedly launched a virus, known as Stuxnet, that struck the Natanz nuclear facility from 2006 to 2010, before it was discovered. The malware's function was to increase the speed of the plant's turbines, leading them to collapse.