The invention of the computer brought much good and innovation; however, there are always those that like to go against the grain – cue the computer hacker! Below is a list of some of the most notorious computer hacks and hackers in history; men that have used the power of the computer to wreak havoc in one way or another.
THE HACKER: Onel de Guzman
THE HACK: The ILOVEYOU computer worm distributed through e-mail
THE RESULT: More than 50 million reported infections across the world with billions of dollars in damage and overwritten files.
On May 4, 2000 much of the world woke to an e-mail in their inbox with the subject line “ILOVEYOU: A Love Letter for You.” What looked innocent enough was actually an extremely malicious computer worm, created by Onel de Guzman, that when opened, would ransack your system, overwriting important files on workstations and accessible servers.
Worse yet, the worm would send a copy of itself to the first 50 contacts in the victims address book, which allowed the worm to spread across the entire world in just one day, infecting more than 50 million computers in total, including units within the pentagon and CIA.
Although ILOVEYOU caused approximately $5.5 billion in damages, because it was written specifically for Outlook, the damages were only incurred by those running Microsoft Windows operating system – imagine the damage if the worm could affect other operating systems!
THE HACKER: Jonathan James
THE HACK: Accessed vital DTRA and NASA computer servers “for fun”
THE RESULT: 10 military computers were hacked which led to an overhaul of government security systems and $41,000 in damages.
Jonathan James, also known as c0mrade, is one of the most interesting hackers in history because he not only targeted some of the most major government agencies but also because he was only 16 at the time of his arrest – making him the first juvenile to be imprisoned for hacking!
Motivated simply by the challenge of seeing what he could pull off, James created a backdoor into a Defense Threat Reduction Agency server that was responsible for monitoring the threat of weapons of mass destruction, as well as, he intercepted over 3,000 messages between DTRA employees and gained control of passwords to at least 10 military computers. He also worked his way into the very NASA server that controlled the physical environment (temperature and humidity) of the International Space Station. Although he didn’t aim to do any harm, his ability to infiltrate NASA’s mainframe forced a $41,000 shut down of their system and an overhaul of security systems.
THE HACKER: [email protected]
The HACK: InMotion/Web Hosting Hub Defacement
THE RESULT: Over 700,000 websites were hacked and defaced.
Having already been successful in hacking and defacing the Google Bangladesh website, a crafty Bangladeshi hacker known as [email protected] managed to access the entire data center of the InMotion Web Hosting network, accessing and defacing over 700,000 websites and sub-directories in the process. More specifically, [email protected] replaced the index.php file on each site, which, in turn, altered each site’s home page, making each site a billboard of his exploits that read, HACKED: Server hacked by [email protected] — #Bangladeshi Hacker..
In a rather non-apologetic statement, [email protected]’s response to the incident boasted, “I hack 700,000 websites in one shot, this may be a new world Record.”
THE HACKER: Gary McKinnon
THE HACK: Accessed vital U.S. Military and NASA computer servers
THE RESULT: He accessed 97 NASA computers and deleted operating files that caused an additional 2,000 military computers to fail.
For as many times as NASA has been hacked, you’d think that they’d have a better security system in place, however, in their defense, they’re the target of the most talented hackers on the planet – Gary McKinnon is no exception. Having been described by a prosecutor as the “biggest military hacker of all time,” McKinnon is an infamous British hacker with Asperger’s Syndrome that managed to crack the code of NASA’s computer system while in search of evidence supporting the existence of UFOs. It is said that he hacked 97 NASA computers and deleted operating files that caused the failure of over 2,000 military computers before he was arrested in 2002.
THE HACKER: Vladimir Levin
THE HACK: Intercepted Citibank’s dial-up wire transfer accounts
THE RESULT: $11 million intercepted, $10 million never recovered
Throughout the 90s Vladimir Levin dabbled in many computer hacking schemes but his most notable (by a long shot) was when he successfully tapped into the dial-up wire transfers between Citibank and their most valued corporate customers, intercepting the signal and transferring the funds into various foreign accounts in the process. Before he was arrested in 1995, Levin successfully stole roughly $10.7 million from Citibank, however, when all was said and done, of all the money that was taken, only $400,000 was ever recovered and returned – meaning Levin pirated his way to over $10 million in plunder!
THE HACKER: Anonymous
THE HACK: HostGator cPanel
THE RESULT: 200 servers hacked to re-direct visitors to malicious third-party site where Trojan virus was then planted
In 2006 an anonymous hacker managed to gain access to more than 200 HostGator system servers and all of their subsequent client sites through a an non-secured section of the host’s cPanel. By exploiting an “unpatched VML security hole” within Internet Explorer, the hacker was able to redirect all incoming traffic to a third-party website that would then infect the web surfers’ computers with a malicious Trojan viruses.
To further complicate the issue, even after HostGator identified the problem and eradicated all of the malicious code, the hack would automatically regenerate; causing the host company to have to repeat the correctional process, until it was ultimately forced to reconfigure all of its 200 servers.
THE HACKER: Robert Morris
THE HACK: The invention of the first computer worm
THE RESULT: Over 6,000 computers were rendered useless
Although he is now a respected professor at MIT, Robert Morris’ most notable notoriety comes from inventing the first computer worm that was not so creatively named the Morris worm. Initially launched from MIT in 1988, to test how many computers were connected to the Internet, his worm proved to be a success, depending on whom you ask. Rending over 6,000 computers completely useless and causing nearly a half-million dollars in damages, Morris’ worm landed him the honor of being the first individual to be tried under the American Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986.
THE HACKER: Kevin Poulsen
THE HACK: Accessed FBI databases and jammed media phone lines
THE RESULT: He won a Porsche 944 S2 and was featured on TV
Working under the pseudonym Dark Dante, Kevin Poulsen is a black hat hacker that has weaseled his way into the FBI’s investigative databases and wiretap information – but that wasn’t his grand opus. Although he has been dubbed “the Hannibal Lecter of computer crime,” his most notable crime wasn’t cannibalism, it was hacking phone lines, twice.
ONE: When KIIS-FM in Los Angeles was going to give away a brand new Porsche 944 S2 to the 102nd caller, Poulsen managed to hack into the station’s phone system and successfully blocked all incoming callers but himself to ensure that he would be that caller.
TWO: After winning the Porsche, he was forced into hiding but struck again as a result of his face being plastered on the TV screen during an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. During the show the phone lines not so mysteriously jammed – of course, it was Poulsen’s work. It bought him some time but not enough as he was eventually charged with wire, mail and computer fraud, as well as, money laundering.
THE HACKER: Anonymous
THE HACK: Spread of Malware via a NetworkSolutions.com widget
THE RESULT: It is suspected that anywhere from 500,000 to 5 million domains were infiltrated and infected with the Malware
In 2010, a group of Chinese hackers remotely hacked into the NetworkSolutions.com servers and managed to spread vicious Malware through the use of a fraudulent customer service pop-up widget on the host’s many domains. Although the fake widget looked innocent enough, it appeared on many of the host’s parked domains and sites that were under construction and, in turn, added banner ads to the affected sites and attempted to install Malware via the Internet browser. Experts have estimated that anywhere between 500,000 and 5 million Network Solutions domains were involved in the outbreak.
THE HACKER: Joseph Thomas Colon
THE HACK: Accessed classified FBI and government employee passwords
THE RESULT: He gained access to the passwords of 38,000 government employees and sparked the spending of $600 million in security upgrades
The first disgruntled employee to land on our list is Joseph Thomas Colon, a former U.S. government consultant that was able to hack into classified government servers on his way to accessing the passwords of over 38,000 government employees – some as high up as the director of the FBI. The best part is that two free computer hacking programs that Colon downloaded off of the Internet inflicted the majority of the damage! Of course, this obviously showed chinks in the FBI’s computer security armor, therefore, the entire network came to a halt and nearly $600 million was invested to upgrade the digital security and to install 30,000 new desktop computers.
THE HACKER: Mark Zuckerberg
THE HACK: Accessed Harvard University’s private student database
THE RESULT: The invention of Facebook
In 2003 Mark Zuckerberg hacked into the protected areas of Harvard University’s computer network and used private dormitory ID photos to craft a picture comparing program called Facemash. Because the site received 22,000 page views within the first few hours and was using unauthorized data, Harvard officials investigated the source to found that it was the work of Zuckerberg. Of course, it may not be the biggest computer hack in history in terms of size and numbers but Mark Zuckerberg’s hack of the Harvard University student database is certainly one of the most infamous. Why? Well, because without it, we wouldn’t have Facebook.
Thanks to hacks like these and countless others, the government and private businesses alike have taken great notice in increasing cyber security threats and are therefore acting accordingly.
For example, in Nevada, a law was passed that requires all businesses to encrypt personally-identifiable customer data that is transmitted electronically, including names and credit card numbers. Further, Massachusetts requires any business that collects information about its state’s residents to encrypt the sensitive data stored on any laptop or other portable device — more than 40 states have enacted similar laws pertaining to cyber security.
In the end, each law that has already been established or that is currently under review is in an attempt to maximize the protection of our privacy and our sensitive private data, as well as, minimize the successes of the average hacker. With some basic front-line defense, the hope is that stories like the ones above can be a thing of the past.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this review of some of the most notorious hacks and hackers in history. Above all, we hope you’ve learned a lesson; computer security is of the utmost importance so make sure that your computer, your host, your server and your Internet connection are all fully secure!