Hackers and computer technology have been a source of cultural obsession since the late 1980s (from the 1995 film Hackers to the most recent incarnation of the Disney Tron films). Still, sometimes not even the most illustrative fiction can compare to what real hackers have pulled off in their time. For your reading pleasure, we’ve compiled a list of the most memorable hacks in history:
Operation Payback — the most recent of memorable hacks — was part of a group called Anonymous’ plan to avenge Julian Assange, Editor-in-Chief of controversial Whistleblower site WikiLeaks. A number of sites — including Amazon, Visa and Mastercard — had either stopped hosting the WikiLeaks documents or prohibited donations to the organization in the last half of 2010. Hackers carried out DDoS attacks (Distributed Denial of Service attacks — basically, overwhelming a system with communications requests) on Paypal, PostFinance, EveryDNS, and Amazon, among others — and successfully knocked the Visa and Mastercard websites offline.
The Melissa Virus was a mass-mail computer “macro” virus. Melissa was spread in 1999 through e-mail clients like Microsoft Outlook, and was distributed first via a Usenet group. (It also infected Microsoft Word versions ’97 and 2000).Microsoft and Intel had to eventually shut down their e-mail systems, because replicated messages were clogging up and overwhelming servers. (The virus deleted files before sending itself to other e-mail addresses in the computer.) It was written by David Smith from Aberdeen, New Jersey, who named his creation after a lap dancer. Smith was eventually fined $5000 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but had his time reduced after cooperating with the police in locating and identifying other hackers.
The 2000 ILOVEYOU virus was an e-mail attachment written in Visual Basic code — and disguised as a love letter. Once opened, the virus would attack the computer by overriding/hiding files and sending a copy of the file to everyone in that person’s Microsoft Outlook address database. It began in the Phillipines, then spread to Hong Kong and Europe, reaching the United States in less than a day. In total, it infected 10 million computers and inflicted at least $5 billion worth of damage. It affected major banks, web companies, and especially multimedia companies, since it targeted files with .jpg and .mp3 extensions. The culprit? Student Onel de Guzman, who proposed the virus as his “thesis project.” The genius of the virus was simple human psychology — who would resist opening a love letter, after all?
This 1998 Morris worm is the first ever internet worm — and it was written by Cornell University doctoral candidate Robert Morris in November of 1988. The worm disabled 10% of all Internet-connected machines, which at the time was estimated to be about 60,000 machines. The worm was a self-replicating program that was designed originally for research — not to harm — but, within hours of its release, forced administrators to disconnect their computers from the internet to keep the worm from spreading. Each individual worm infected a computer many times, overwriting files…..Morris was convicted for his research, but didn’t serve time.
In 1990, Kevin Poulsen hacked LA radio station KIIS-FM’s phone lines to ensure that he was 102nd caller in a contest where the prize was a brand new Porsche. How did he do it? Taking control of the entire phone network. Poulsen later went on to hack a federal investigation database, and was arrested in a supermarket by the FBI. He served five years, and later re-emerged as a journalist — most notably, as a senior editor for Wired News.
AOHell was a project started by hacker Da Chronic after he tired of AOL’s unwarranted attacks on the “Hackers Room” chatroom. AOHell is a multi-user hacking agent — the first of its kind — that basically simplified “hacking” for the masses. Users could generate fake, fully-functional AOL accounts for about a month, as well as fake addresses, phone numbers, and credit card numbers. (The account was usually disabled when AOL billed it and discovered the credit card number was invalid.) AOHell gave uses the ability to send IM codes that forced people to sign off, automatic IM/chatroom responses, and mail bombs (which would fill up the receiver’s inbox until it was full.) The program was last compatible with AOL v. 2.5.