5 Most Notorious Cyber Attacks in History That Shook the World

For as long as the earth has cradled human life, it has unintentionally nourished war itself, for with the rise and fall of empires come battles for dominance. The modern era is quite the same, whether one considers the Cuban missile crisis, or more recently, the threat of WWIII occurring and possibly plunging the world into a nuclear apocalypse. However, as time and strategy differ from their form thousands of years ago, so does war. The modern battle is not only focused on brute force and violence. Instead, it has expanded further and further into the realms of delicacy, with warfare falling to pens and diplomats. This delicacy has given birth to what is known as ‘cyber warfare,’ which is a form of war that uses computer technology to sow discord, disrupt the opponent’s way of life, and deliberately attack key points such as information systems for military and strategic purposes. 

Although the first cyber-attack happened in 1834 when a pair of thieves hacked into the French Telegraph System and tried to steal financial market information, cyber-attacks have grown in seriousness, with some of the most notorious ones happening quite recently. Curious? Read on to find out about the most notorious cyber-attacks in history.

  1. The Morris Worm (1988)

Creator of the first computer worm ever transmitted through the internet, Robert Tappan Morris was a mere student at Cornell University when he sent computer scientists across the world in a frenzy concerning the fate of cyber security and privacy, upending the metaphorical table and sending a jolt through the world of computer security, apparently unknowingly jotting down his name in history books for everyone concerned with cyber security education to peer over. 

To this day, Morris claims that he created a computer worm not to harm anyone but to measure the vastness of cyberspace. However, things quickly went sideways when the worm experienced a critical error and promptly transformed into a virus that spread just as quickly through replication. This virus soon began infecting other computers, resulting in a widespread negation of service. In the end, the damages amounted to $100 million in just reparation bills, with 6000 computers being affected. Morris was convicted of violating the United States Code: Title 18 and sentenced to three years’ probation, a fine of $10,050, and 400 hours of community service. While this attack was apparently just an unfortunate event that took a turn for the worse, there’s no denying that it is the inspiration behind so many of today’s denial-of-service attacks.

  1. The Sony Attacks (2011)

2011 welcomed a year of upheavals for Sony. Sony suffered attacks on multiple fronts, with the PlayStation Network (PSN) being brought to its knees several times in April 2011. The event resulted in the user data of 77 million users being leaked, including usernames, passwords, and email addresses. Despite their best attempts, Sony was unable to ward off the breach of data and had to shut down its servers for 23 days. 

Despite all that, it went even further, with Qriocity (Sony’s streaming service) and Sony Online Entertainment (the company’s game-maker and publisher) being forced to shut down for a solid month, and Sony ended up losing $171 million in the aftermath of the attack and was fined $400,000 by U.K. authorities. The company also compensated players for the data lost in digital goods. However, Sony’s troubles were far from over. 

Sony experienced yet another security breach, this time by a group of hackers called “LulzSec” who stole names, credit card details, and other such consumer data from Sony’s website, and claimed that they had found it to be unencrypted, which brought on a wave of backlash from the public, and accusations of consumer data not being safeguarded. LulzSec later issued a press release, in which they said, “Sony stored over 1,000,000 passwords of its customers in plaintext… which means it’s just a matter of taking it.” So one can see why the public would be enraged.

  1. U.S. Defense Department and NASA Collective Hack (1999)

One of the youngest people in the hackers’ hall of fame, Jonathan James penetrated both the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA in 1999, aged only 15 at the time. Jonathan found a way into the computers of the Defense Wing and installed a ‘backdoor’ on the servers, which gave him access to thousands of emails between governmental organizations, including computers dealing with military matters. 

Making use of the stolen information, Jonathan proceeded to steal a piece of NASA software which ended up shutting down their systems for three weeks and cost NASA $41,000. According to NASA, the stolen software was worth $1.7 million and was used to operate the inner, physical workings of the International Space Station, such as the temperature and humidity in the living space. 

James was sentenced to seven months’ house arrest and probation, required to write apology letters to NASA and the Department of Defense and was banned from using computers for recreational purposes. However, this young boy with so much potential met a tragic end, committing suicide in 2008 after being accused of consorting with hackers to steal credit card information. James’ suicide letter denied the allegations.

  1. WikiLeaks (2016)

It was reported in 2016 that Russian espionage groups Fancy Bear and Cozy bear hacked into the U.S. Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) emails sometime between 2015 and 2016. Analysts have identified that the reason behind these hacks was to create backlash and controversy that would undoubtedly have a significant impact on the 2016 U.S. elections due to the sensitive nature of the documents that were hacked. It is safe to say that the information that was exposed did hold a substantial part in the outcome of the elections.

 Wikileaks, which is a non-profit organization that publishes submissions of secret and confidential documents and communications, news leaks, source code from within systems, and classified media from anonymous whistleblowers, was provided this information and published it on their site for the whole world to see. Not only did this news make headlines globally, but it also exposed the under-the-table dealings taking place between politicians, far from the eyes of the public.

  1. Marriott Cyber Attacks (2018)

Marriott is one of the largest hotel chains in the world. Reservations require the provision of a plethora of personal data from the customers, such as credit card information, addresses, and even passport numbers. 

The attacks began as far back as 2014, and the one thing that sets the whole situation apart is that the responsible authorities only noticed in 2018, after the data of 500 million guests was stolen from their reservation systems. 

Another anomaly that arose from the situation was that the personal data of 500 million guests was stolen, yet the information of not a single guest appeared on the dark web, which meant that the hackers hadn’t acquired the information to sell it, which begged the question: then why? Analysts believe that usually, when data doesn’t appear for sale, it’s taken by the state for intelligence purposes, but as for the truth, we may never know.

The pages of history are overflowing with wars being waged in the name of diplomacy, policy, strategy, religion, beliefs, and such influential factors. Although these are just some of the most notorious cyber-attacks that ended up shaking the world, or in some cases, bringing it to its knees, there are hundreds of other large-scale attacks out there waiting to be acknowledged. With 18 cyber-attacks taking place per minute, it’s safe to say that cyber-warfare might just evolve into a monster that we cannot tame.