Computer hacking is how wars are waged in the 21st Century. Knowledge is power and a plethora of data such as user names, passwords, location history, and past purchases all exist online stored in the databases of numerous companies, or simply on your phone. Data can be used for good or nefarious purposes and in this data centric world, hackers hold the keys and stand guard at the gateways. Have you ever wondered how did we get to this point? The term hacker originally meant someone who had excellent computer skills. Over time the term has been associated with cyber criminals and security hackers also known as crackers. Hackers are categorized into three separate types, and not every type of hacker is considered bad nor malicious.
Some hackers aim to protect sensitive information from those who attempt to steal and pilfer this data for malicious purposes, these are known as White Hat hackers. White Hat’s generally work for companies and government agencies in order to test and improve their computer security systems, also to assist in the capture of illegal hackers. Black Hat hackers on the other hand choose to proliferate data for there own personal and financial gain, and generally perform illegal actions. Lastly there are Grey Hat hackers, these hackers break into systems more for fun, exhilaration and the sense of power it gives them. Grey Hat’s differ from Black Hat’s because they are not motivated by financial gains, though their activities are often illegal.
Computer hacking can trace it’s roots back to the 1960’s not long after the invention of the computer. Students at MIT first coined the term “Hack” but their intention was not criminal. The term Hack originated with MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club, which then later translated into computers. These early hackers only wished to push a system to its limits and find new possibilities within operating systems. Many famously historical hackers got their start in the 1970’s including John Draper, Steve Wozniak and Kevin Mitnick. Hacking as we know it today did not come about until the 1980’s when personal computers were introduced to the public. The 1980’s saw the first known computer viruses, software piracy and theft’s of sensitive information. In response the U.S government passed the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 into law. Robert Tappan Morris created the computer worm while studying at Cornell University. Morris claimed he invented the worm to gauge the size of the internet, yet in 1989 he was the first person convicted under the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Hacking exploded in the 1990’s with the emergence of the internet, and during this decade hacking gained the fame, notoriety and controversy it still has today. Vladimir Levin is credited with the first digital bank heist, when in 1994 Levin accessed corporate Citibank accounts and reportedly stole 10.7$ Million US dollars. Also in 1994 Linus Torvalds a White Hat hacker created his own operating system releasing Linux version 1.0 to the public. The 1990’s also saw major attacks on giant tech corporations such as AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s Windows Operating System. Government agencies were not exempt from cyber attacks. Hackers altered the websites of both the CIA and the U.S Department of Justice. There is even an incident of an unnamed Croatian youth who infiltrated computers at a U.S Air Force Base in Guam during 1997. Throughout the 1990’s Law Enforcement began cracking down on cyber criminals with numerous raids and sting operations which lead to many hackers being convicted, turning on one another and serving time.
As we entered the year 2000, and saw the Y2K bug people obsessively feared was nothing more than wasted worry, a new more stealth and sophisticated breed of hackers were being born. Combining hacking and activism the hacktivist group Anonymous was formed in 2003. Anonymous has leaked information from corporations, government agencies, specific officials and altered or shutdown websites. Anonymous aims to expose corrupted members of those in power, in order to show everyone the people are in power. These Robin Hood’s of the digital age tread the line between Black Hat and White Hat hacking. Through the years Anonymous has grown from being just a hacking group into a social movement. Covering all the cyber attacks credited to Anonymous would be an article in itself so I left a link below If you are interested in learning more.
In the past ten years cyber security events have not stopped nor lessened in extremity. Regardless to the advancements in security protocols and knowledge learned from past mistakes and attacks. The hackers seem to stay one step ahead of the evolution’s in cyber warfare. Nowadays hackers exist across the globe. During Operation Aurora disclosed by Google in 2010 a group of highly skilled and coordinated Chinese military hackers attacked Northrop Gunman, Morgan Stanley, Yahoo, Adobe and others. A group of Eastern European hackers infiltrated several news-wire services and used the un-announced headline information to impact the stock market between 2010 and 2015. North Korea showed their aptitude at hacking in 2014 when they gained access to Sony pictures in order to stop the release of a movie titled The Interview which painted their leader Kim Jong-Un in a less than favorable light.
The most recent notable cyber attacks include the Equifax attack of 2017 where the personal information of 145.5 million users was stolen from the Equifax system. The Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal of 2018 in which around 87 million Facebook profiles were scourged for information to be sold to political campaigns. This led to Cambridge Analytica filing for bankruptcy and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying in front of Congress. First American one of the largest real estate insurance companies had a gargantuan data breach with nearly 900 million records becoming compromised in May 2019, which included Social Security and bank account numbers. Interestingly in 2020, 17 year old Graham Clark allegedly masterminded a social engineering attack on Twitter in which he was able to hijack the accounts of Elon Musk and Barack Obama, among others.
Hacking has had a tumultuous history and it’s presence in our world has only just begun. I do not for-see computer technology ever disappearing from our lives, and so as long as its there, so will be those who find ways through impenetrable cyber security systems. Though the majority of this article focused on cyber attacks, there are many White Hat hackers behind the scenes protecting our information and privacy everyday. The effort’s of these unsung heroes in White Hat’s usually remain unknown, and unfortunately it’s the breaches and cyber attacks by Black Hat’s that get all the front page headlines. As a result of our technology driven lives, cyber warfare has become an undeniable fact of our existence.
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