The Shady Side of the Internet: Significant Cyber Incidents

The Shady Side of the Internet: Significant Cyber Incidents Since 2006

In today’s world, cyber attacks have taken on a whole new meaning. Instead of harmless, joke-style pranks, they’ve come to resemble all out warfare, involving entire countries, governments, and vital global systems. Only the most diligent will survive.

The number of malicious incidents have increased by 39% in 2010, of which, 31% involved malicious code. And since early 2006, there have been more than 65 serious cyber incidents. At the root of each one, is a basic method and concept.

How is it done?

Common Techniques Used In Serious Cyber Incidents

In many instances, attacks start with a simple deception that provides the hacker with specific pieces of information. They then use this information with various other techniques to gain access to the system and carry out their plans.

Here are some of the techniques they use and how they’ve been used since 2006 to cause chaos and make attackers millions of dollars:


Phishing attacks use techniques such as link manipulation, filter evasion, fake websites, and phone phishing. Tabnabbing, and popup windows have also caused significant issues, and can be extremely difficult for the untrained eye to detect.

In 2010, the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) investigated 56,579 instances of phishing. Some of the largest and most recent security issues using this technique include attacks against Sony Playstation and Epsilon email marketing firm, which affected millions of users. In the incident with Sony Playstation, a hacked page sent users to a fake Italian credit card company site that was used to steal personal information from millions of users.

Rod Rasmussen, co-author of the Anti-Phishing Working Group, says 18% of all phishing incidents target online gaming systems such as World of Warcraft and the average uptime is 72 hours. Because the first two days are generally the most profitable, it’s easy to see how much damage they can cause.

Bots and Email

Malicious emails generally contain misleading links or bad attachments. Once the information is collected, hackers deploy bots to send out spam mails and gain additional information through email. These often start out small and simple, but when aimed at the right company or organization, can result in the loss of millions.

In the summer of 2008, after two years of attacks on Google, hackers launched coordinated attacks on Marathon Oil, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips, putting losses in the millions. Each of these big oil companies lost information on the quantity, value, and location of several of the world’s oil discoveries.

Viruses and Trojans

Viruses and trojans start off looking innocent and harmless, but both are highly dangerous. There are some differences, however. Viruses are self-replicating, while trojans look like a helpful program at first, but will steal information, alter, or destroy data.

In 2010, the US Computer Emergency Readiness team found 11,001 instances of hacking through viruses, trojans, worms, and logic bombs. These were once found most often on home computers, attacking the files on a 386 PC, but not anymore. Since the beginning of 2011, the Iran government, the Norway army, and even Mac computers have been the targets of virus attacks.

Malware, Spyware, and Password Cracking

These methods use programs, script, software, and code created for the specific purpose of gathering information or triggering specific actions (launching ads and pop-ups, for example). They’re also responsible for the largest and most successful attacks in the online world to date.

In May of 2008, government officials in India accused China of hacking their government computers. They felt the Chinese scanned and mapped India’s networks, which allowed them to gain access to content that provided them with details as to how the country could disable or disrupt India’s Networks.

These crimes haven’t ceased. In October of 2010, hackers used the famous openly marketed ‘Zeus’ malware on five US and UK banks. The program used email links to transfer $12 million to their own fake accounts. One hundred people were arrested in connection with the incident.

Not all malware is that basic. Iran, Indonesia, and other countries were targeted by a sophisticated malware program called Stuxnet. The officials in those countries felt the purpose of this program was to attack the Iranian nuclear program.

Hardware Exploitation

DoS (Denial-of-Service) attacks, power grid attacks, wireless ‘evil twin’ networks, card skimming, and other techniques either render hardware inoperable or alter it. Denial of Service attacks gained popularity during the Iran revolution in 2010, but they existed long before then.

In May of 2007, speculations fingered the Russian government as being behind DoS attacks on the Estonian government. The attacks shut down several online government and banking systems.

In 2009, the United States and South Korean government websites were hit by DoS attacks. The attacks were more of a feast for the media and a pain in the backside, rather than crippling, but they were a sign that cyber attacks had become a popular and effective weapon for protesting groups and global rivals.

Script Attacks

This type of cyber incident involves using node, software, script, and bots to attack the foundation of applications and web pages. These include SQL injections, header injection, cross-site request forgery, and cross-site scripting. These sound more like something hackers would use to gain links or direct traffic to their own sites, but this isn’t true.

One of the most notable SQL injections occurred from 2006 to 2008. During that time, Albert Gonzalez and two Russians were charged with stealing 130 million credit card numbers from corporate victims, including Heartland Payment Systems, 7-Eleven, and Hannaford Brothers supermarkets.  The three individuals weren’t charged until July of 2009. It was the largest identity theft through hacking in US History.

No matter what format hacking and other cyber incidents use, they all can have serious consequences. They’re not just targeting the little guys any more. They can change the relations between two countries, cause the world’s largest institutions to cease operating, and affect millions and even billions of users. The only real solution is education and diligence.


  1. Maninder @ HackTik.c August 12, 2011
  2. Walter Vangemert December 15, 2011