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The Biggest Cyber Attacks In History & What Can Be Learnt


You’d think that when a cyber-criminal gets caught and probably arrested, it would deter the other sad acts from doing the same. 2017 has seen some pretty big attacks and you can bet that more will continue to cause damage on a global scale. Forget about what’s to come for a second, let’s look at what has already happened over the years and how businesses can learn from it. Here are some of the biggest cyber attacks in history.

Data Security Breach

Source: Flickr

There are some attacks that cost billions in damages, a handful saw global powerhouses get involved, while Kim Jong-un even found himself embroiled in a cyber attack saga too. The list will also feature the biggest bank raid in history, a 15 year old causing havoc with some massive companies and an 18 year old going up against NASA.

The Original Logic Bomb

The year was 1982 in the midst of the Cold War where one of the biggest cyber attacks in history took place. USA’s Central Intelligence Agency somehow found a way to disrupt the operation of a Siberian gas pipeline of Russia without using any bombs, missiles or any other explosive devices.

The CIA caused the gas pipeline to explode using a portion of a code in a computer system which controlled the whole operation - which they called a logic bomb. The chaos which followed was on such a monumental scale that the resulting fire could be seen from space.

Epsilon Data Breach

The Epsilon data breach proved to be one of the costliest cyber attacks in history. Epsilon is the world’s largest provider of marketing, handling services to industry giants such as Best Buy and JP Morgan Chase in the US.

The implications of this data breach were a lot greater than estimated, as the targets of the hackers were email addresses which they used for criminal activities, with damages costing between $225 million to a massive $4 billion.

World’s Biggest Bank Raid

Hackers in Russia targeted hundreds of financial institutions worldwide where over £650 million went missing. British banks lost tens of millions of pounds after the gang spent two years orchestrating the attack. They used a method called spear phishing where they sent a malware-infested email and infected the systems of those that opened it to jump right into the bank’s network and lurked there for months.

Their sophisticated software allowed the criminals to view video feeds from ‘secure’ offices and even impersonated bank staff online to transfer millions into dummy accounts. They were also able to instruct ATM machines to dispense money out at random times of the day without a bank card, but that’s how they were caught.

An ATM in Ukraine was spitting out money at random times, prompting an investigation which finally ended their bank-robbing antics.

The Sony Situation

In 2011, 77 million PlayStation Network and Sony Online Entertainment accounts were stolen by an unknown group of cyber hackers, including credit and debit card details. The outage from the external intrusion left an estimated damage of around £140 million but the gamers were left upset for another reason. They were unable to log on to their online accounts while Sony were trying to fix the breach, which lasted for 24 days.

Three years after the PSN outage, Sony were at the heart of it again as confidential data was released from Sony Pictures Entertainment. ‘Guardians of Peace’ took responsibility for it, claiming that they’d had access one year before it became public knowledge. Scripts for upcoming films, health records of famous actors, as well as information about Sony employees was taken and even though Sony set aside $15 million to deal with the attacks, information was still leaked.

It’s thought that North Korea was behind the attacks, mainly because Sony released a film called The Interview, in which James Franco and Seth Rogen attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-un.

The InterviewImage Credit: Timedotcom

The Accidental Morris Worm

This unfortunate debacle was a complete accident which paved the way for attacks that followed. Robert Tappan Morris created the first worm transmitted through the internet as a student in the US back in 1988. He claimed his intention wasn’t to cause any harm, but was made for the innocuous intent to determine the vastness of cyberspace.

That’s when things went pear-shaped. The worm encountered a critical error and morphed into a virus which rapidly began to infect other computers, resulting in denial of service. 6000 computers were affected with damages costing around $10-$100 million. It was an unfortunate accident, but this played a part in the distribution of DDoS attacks we see today.


Michael Demon Calce from Canada - otherwise known as MafiaBoy - caused havoc as a 15-year-old. He gained notoriety in 2000 for hacking companies with high-level security, such as Dell, Yahoo!, FIFA, CNN, eBay and Amazon. His efforts resulted in estimated damages of $1.2 billion, and the teen received an eight-month ‘open custody’ sentence, one year of probation, a small fine and restricted use of the internet.

He’s even gone on to release books of how he managed to accomplish such a feat.

Birthday Hacking

Sven Jaschan, a German college student, decided to unleash hell on his 18th birthday back in 2004. He confessed as the author of Netsky worms and Sasser computer works that he unleashed a virus that had resounding effects all around the world.

The estimated damage was believed to be around $500 million, but that was a lucky escape as experts believe it could have been more as it disabled the Delta Air Lines’ computer system which resulted in a number of cancellations of several transatlantic flights. A cat-and-mouse chase then followed, with Microsoft placing a £250,000 bounty on his head and Jaschan was finally captured after a three-month manhunt operation.

WannaCry Virus

The WannaCry ransomware attack took place in May 2017 and rocked the entire world, especially the NHS in the UK. The attack targeted computers running Microsoft Windows by encrypting data and demanding ransom payments in the Bitcoin currency.

The attack is said to have crippled the NHS, and reportedly infected more than 230,000 computers in over 150 countries.

The Ransomware attack on the NHSImage Credit: Arstechnica

Teen vs. NASA

Jonathan James was only 15 years old in 1999, but his antics saw him secure a place in the hacker’s hall of fame. He somehow managed to penetrate the computers of the US Department of Defense and installed a backdoor on its servers. This  action allowed him to intercept thousands of internal emails from different government organisations, including usernames and passwords for military computers.

He was able to steal a piece of NASA software which cost the space exploration agency $41,000 with systems getting shut down for three weeks. NASA claimed the software was worth $1.7 million and supported the International Space Station’s physical environment, including the temperature and humidity within the living space - so he had too much control.

James was eventually caught and received a light sentence due to his young age, but committed suicide in 2008 after he was accused of conspiring to steal credit card information with other hackers, something he denied in his suicide letter.

Even with the rapid advancements of technology, it's still clear that nobody is ever safe from attacks as even the most sophisticated of defences can eventually be breached - even by 15 year old's in some cases. From this, it shows that not even the biggest companies in the world expect to fall victim to a cyber attack and should have practices in place to avoid falling victim to such scams.

Make Sure You Keep Your Business Safe From Cyber Attacks

You don’t want to see your business end up on one of these lists, so take the right steps and make sure your systems are protected from cyber attacks such as the detestable ransomware. Criminals are adopting ransomware more often now because of the financial rewards that come with it and will stop at nothing to get their hands on your sensitive data.

If you want to learn more about ransomware and how to prevent it from happening, check out our free eBook:

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