Last week we looked at how hacking began all the way back in 1903 and covered the most famous hacking incidents up until 1990. This second article looks at the most famous hacks and hacking related events that occurred in the 90’s, the time when the internet really took off.
1990- A nationwide anti-hacking operation dubbed ‘Operation Sundevil’ was launched in the USA. The operation saw authorities’ raid properties in fifteen different cities, resulting in three arrests.
1992- A virus maker from Bulgaria called Dark Avenger creates 1260, the first known use of polymorphic code which can be used to get around pattern recognition by anti-virus software and intrusion detection systems. If a security programme detects a known virus or worm, it will attempt to neutralise it, however, a Polymorphic algorithm allows the malicious code to constantly mutate, meaning that it is very difficult for an anti-virus to recognise and destroy it.
1993- The first ever DEF CON hackers conference is held in Las Vegas. Originally, the conference was created to be a one-off final good-bye to the Bulletin Board System (BBS) which was being rapidly being replaced by the internet. The meeting proved to be such a success, however, that it became an annual event.
1994- It didn’t take long for hackers to adapt to the internet and within the space of a year cyber-attacks increased dramatically. In the summer, Russian hackers managed to siphon $10 million from Citibank and transferred it to bank accounts located all over the world. The hacks ringleader is arrested and sent to prison for 3 years. All but $400,000 is recovered by the authorities.
New hacker websites begin to appear online and a freeware application called AOHell is released. The programme allows hundreds of script kiddies to cause carnage on America Online and for leads to AOL users having their inboxes flooded with malware and chat rooms filled with spam.
1996- Hackers attempt to break into US Defence Department computer files 250,000 times over the course of the year. Hackers succeed in successfully managing to hack into and alter the websites of the CIA, US Air force and the US Department of Justice.
1997- With the advent of MP3s online piracy takes off in earnest. Authorities try to stop the practise but ultimately fail. Not long after, sites such as Napster are created.
1998- Hacktivists attack Yahoo! They claim that anyone using the site could have downloaded a worm and logic bomb (a piece of code which has been intentionally inserted into a system that will set off a malicious function when specified conditions are met.) They make demands that hacker Kevin Mitnick is released from prison, if the demands are refused they would set off the logic bomb.
1999- Jonathan James becomes the first juvenile imprisoned for hacking. He was 15 at the time of his first offence and was convicted at 16. He was caught after he was detected breaking into the computers of the USA’s Defence Threat Reduction Agency which is an agency within the Department of Defence.
1999 also saw the release of the Melissa Virus. This virus is thought to have infected 20% of the world’s computers. The virus was spread as an e-mail attachment, that when opened disabled safeguards in Word 97 and Word 2000 programmes. If the victim was a user of the Microsoft Outlook e-mail programme the virus would resend itself to the first 50 people in the user’s address books. The virus spread so far that Microsoft was forced to close down all incoming e-mails. Other big companies also reported being affected. The man who released the virus was David L. Smith. He was eventually tracked down and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He served 20 months, and was fined US $5,000. A relatively light punishment for the costliest malware outbreak in history.
In next week’s final article we will look at the biggest hacks of the 21st century so far.