10 Hacker Horror Stories

To mark Friday the 13th, we’ve put together ten of the most horrifying hacker stories from history.

Look down at the bottom-right hand corner of your screen. That date: it’s familiar, isn’t it? Check what day of the week it is, too. That’s right – Friday the 13th is upon us! Quick! Run for the hills!

Or don’t – a popular myth that all things can and will go wrong on this apparently-unluckiest of all days is surely only believed these days by the most superstitious of people. Nevertheless, it’s an irrational fear that’ll still cause businesses and IT services the world over to shift a little nervously in their seats – because wouldn’t it just be typical to be subject to a full-scale hack on today of all days?

Here in no way to allay your fears, then, are ten hacker horror stories that’ll have you reaching for your four-leafed clover.

1. Stuxnet, 2010

This Windows-based worm was essentially used as a weapon by the United States and Israel in an effort to attack Iran’s Siemens-run uranium enrichment facilities – or so goes the story, as reports have claimed that it destroyed one-fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. Neither country have confirmed that they were behind the worm, but this grand presumption of cyber-warfare is rather terrifying as it demonstrates a major – and not to mention unregulated – attack on another country’s infrastructure (albeit a rather aggressive aspect of it) that could set a dangerous precedent for the future.

2. ‘The Fappening’ Celebrity Photo Hack, 2014

The first high-profile hack of 2014 had a particularly unsettling tone as it revealed the intimate contents of a number of A-list celebrities’ phones, launching the cringingly-titled ‘Fappening’ Reddit page that so christened this unfortunate episode. Much of the world, however, acted in revulsion at this gross invasion of privacy, as the hacking of more than 500 photos triggered a raging debate about online privacy, security and the infallibility of – among others – Apple’s iCloud service.

3. Spamhaus DDoS Attack, 2013

The London and Geneva-based Spamhaus Project suffered a major hack after it aggravated the infamous Amsterdam-based CyberBunker network by placing them on an email blacklist. Their response? Unleashing a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) on Spamhaus that was one of the largest of its kind: with traffic reaching astonishing levels of 300 GB per second, internet connections across Europe were adversely affected for over a week. CyberBunker’s owner Sven Kamphuis is currently awaiting trial following his arrest in 2013.

4. Alberto Gonzalez, 2005-07

A good ol’ fashioned money heist was Alberto Gonzalez’s raison d’etre when he launched an almighty hack in 2005 that culminated two years later in the combined theft and subsequent resale (over internet auction, of course) of more than 170 million credit card and ATM numbers. An astounding crime, Gonzalez and his team used SQL injections to net their booty, but he soon had another far more serious net closing above him as he was caught and sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2010.

5. Sony Cyber Attack, 2014

The dust appears to only just be settling on the second of 2014’s most prominent hacks, but the damage that was caused has had a seismic psychological impact on the entertainment industry. The so-called ‘Guardians of Peace’ (GoP) managed to extract 100 TB of private company data – employee addresses, sensitive emails, copies of previously unreleased films – as a response to Sony’s plans to release the controversial North Korean-jibing movie The Interview. Never had a Seth Rogen buddy flick received such a bad review: the GoP then threatened the safety of cinemagoers, causing Sony to cancel the film’s worldwide release and the US government to then all-but-overtly blame North Korea for the hack, souring relations with Kim Jong Un’s totalitarian paradise further.

6. Conficker, 2008

Targeting holes in Windows’ OS, this 2008 worm sought records and notoriety by affecting home, business and government computers across 200 countries. Its true horror, however, arises from a continued inability by internet security forces to fully eradicate it, as Conficker manages to repeatedly update itself by logging onto an ever-increasing number of websites. It’s still at large today: affecting up to a million computers every year, tech security professionals are still scratching their heads as to how on earth they can combat it. That’s something to keep you awake at night, eh?

7. Roy Sun, 2014

Less of a horror story that affects us all and more one that affected just one guy – a Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana) electrical engineering student decided that, in lieu of actually going to class, he would use his hacking knowledge to change his F grades to As. Yes, Roy Sun was living every student’s dream as he managed to actually graduate with straights As despite not attending a single class in his senior year. Unfortunately for Roy, he didn’t quite manage to ride off into the Sun: a judge sentenced him last year to 90 days jail time for fraud.

8. PlayStation Network Hack, 2011

Poor old Sony: it’s worth remembering that the unfortunate 2014 episode wasn’t the first time that the entertainment conglomerate had suffered at the hands of hackers. Back in 2011, its PlayStation online network was compromised by an incursion that lost the personal data of approximately 77 million users worldwide, and, perhaps most crushingly for gamers, forced Sony to take the network down for over three weeks. As gamers opened their curtains for the first time in lord knows how long to gaze in wonder at that glowing ball of heat and light up in the sky, Sony wept at the mouth-watering $171m that it cost to deal with the hack.

9. Adrian Lamo, 2003

Christened the “Homeless Hacker” due to his penchant for hacking from public places – coffee shops, libraries, universities – Boston-born Lamo managed to break into the networks of Microsoft, The New York Times and Yahoo! prior to his 2003 arrest. Underlining the ease and anonymity of internet hacking, Lamo’s activities have undoubtedly influenced an entire generation of hackers to explore the holes in the online security of major corporations. It wasn’t entirely surprising when Lamo then got involved in the WikiLeaks scandal in 2010, as he reported Bradley Manning to US federal authorities for the latter’s part in leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive US government documents.

10. Melissa Virus, 1999

Closing this veritable list of horrors is one of the 20th century’s most notorious hacks: devised by bored New Jersey programmer David L. Smith as a macro virus that disguised itself as a Microsoft Word document (remember, people were far more naïve about computer security in those days), it quickly spread through its ability to send itself to the first 50 contacts in the afflicted computer’s email address book. Affecting up to 20% of computers worldwide, including those used in both Microsoft and Intel’s headquarters, Smith quickly earned infamy and some serious jail time.

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