Well, How Did We get Here? A Brief History of Cyberattacks

March 21, 2016 · steveverbanic · Security  · Comments

Given the proper tools, someone will always find a way to misuse them for their own benefit. Case in point, the current rash of cyberattacks that have affected organizations large and small by attacking the networks we use to distribute and safeguard sensitive information. When it comes to cybersecurity, we are in an era of increasingly sophisticated hackers, with unprecedented numbers.

One of the biggest motivators behind these attacks is that there is money to be made from selling data on the dark web. Others include political motivations and a desire for revenge by disgruntled employees.

As you consider the current threat level, it’s useful to look back at the history of cyberattacks to understand how we got here.

1989 and the Morris Worm

Before the internet, a hack of the scale and proportion we see today was impossible. One of the first known attacks, the Morris worm, occurred in 1989.  According to its creator, Robert Tapan Morris, the Morris worm was not meant to be a malicious attack but was developed to determine the vastness of cyberspace.

The worm nonetheless infiltrated UNIX systems and eventually morphed into a virus which replicated and infected over 6000 computers resulting in the first known denial of service. The Morris worm was the first virus of scale that has led to the formation of computer emergency response teams or CERTs are the development of today’s cybersecurity industry.

Rise of the Viruses

The 1990s became a boon period for viruses. Early examples include the ILOVEYOU and Melissa viruses, which were designed more to disrupt email systems than to steal assets. As the threat became clearer, an entire industry of anti-virus software emerged that continues to play cat-and-mouse with hackers.

Hackers Target Credit Card Data

Stepping up their game, cybercriminals began to attack consumer’s’ credit cards en masse in the 2000s. Unaware consumers were naively entering their data over unsecured networks and leaving them on unprotected websites, making them tantalizing targets.

Between 2005 and 2007, a gang of criminals, led by american hacker Albert Gonzalez, made off with private data from more than 45 million card holders of TJ Maxx retailer owner TJX resulting in the theft of about a quarter-billion dollars.  We have since seen a large number of point of sale attacks including Home Depot and UPS. The new EMV chip cards will make a dent in the security of POS data but it has yet to be proven to what extent chip cards will keep credit card data safe.

Increasingly Larger Data Breaches

The Target attack of two years ago, at the time was the largest scale POS attack we had seen. Cybercriminals breached an otherwise secure network during a period when customer data had not yet been encrypted.

We continue to see large scale attacks such as the politically motivated attack on the IRS and Office of Personnel Management (OPM). In October, credit card agency Experian announced that a data breach exposed personal details of approximately 15 million individuals, many of them T-Mobile customers.

Stay Abreast of Cybercrime

We can only expect the threats to continue as sophisticated hackers develop new and innovative ways to penetrate the network. We must not only adopt the most advanced protection and detection that can be afforded but also remain diligent in staying on top of the latest threats.

Cybersecurity firm, Fortinet maintains FortiGuard Labs, an in-house team that conducts research on zero day and other emerging threats. Fortinet not only keeps abreast of the latest threats but also use the data to infuse their top of the line cybersecurity products.

Protect Your Most Valuable Assets

An experienced systems integrator such as SLAIT Consulting, can develop and implement cybersecurity solutions that will meet your unique infrastructure and budgetary needs. SLAIT Consulting partners with top-tier technologies, like Fortinet, to secure your network and implement critical controls while maintaining the speed of your network so that regular business operations are not slowed by cybersecurity measures.