Real-Life Malware Attacks That Shook the World

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    Cyber attacks can be devastating. They can cost businesses millions and even affect human lives.

    In 1988, the Morris worm claimed several firsts: it was the first widespread computer virus to reproduce, spread via multiple vulnerabilities, and cause damage.

    The 2000 ILOVEYOU worm was crafted with simple criminal intent: the creator wanted to steal passwords for dial-up services he couldn’t afford. This worm made use of numerous flaws in Windows 95.

    The CNA Hack

    When most people think of cyber warfare, they envision attacks that take down power grids or stop cars and planes in their tracks. Cyberwarfare goes much deeper than that. Hackers sometimes attack organizations to steal information or make their systems unavailable. This can be a form of CNE or computer network exploitation, where hackers gain access to computers and manipulate their data.

    In March 2021, insurance conglomerate CNA Financial was the victim of a ransomware attack that forced them to pay hackers $40 million to release their systems. This is believed to be the largest ransom amount paid to date.

    Before executing examples of malware attacks, cybercriminals used a man-in-the-middle technique to spy on the company’s systems. This allowed them to collect passwords, user IDs, and other important information they could use later in the ransomware attack.

    The Melissa Virus

    Melissa was a wake-up call to many computer users, and it helped to spur improvements in online security. Unfortunately, it also inspired a host of viruses that came after it.

    In the aftermath of Melissa, federal agencies and businesses she realized that they had to be more proactive about protecting their networks against cyberattacks. Melissa showed that it was a good idea always to be suspicious of unsolicited email attachments and to have robust backup systems in place.

    The ILOVEYOU virus spread 15 times faster than the Melissa worm, infecting over 1 million computers within hours. It caused massive email disruptions worldwide, with government and private companies such as Microsoft and Lucent Technologies having to take their email servers offline.

    Designed to spread through the popular Outlook email program running on Windows, which then controlled 95% of the personal computer market, ILOVEYOU exploited an “autocomplete” feature that matched names from the address book when a user typed an email message. The worm was created by a hacker who used the Internet alias VicodinES and worked for an AT&T subcontractor in a high-tech corridor of New Jersey.

    The Brain Virus

    Brain, a virus first released in 1986, was one of the first to do real harm to a computer. It did so by rewriting the boot sector on the floppy disk and then using that to infect other floppy disks. Brain was also the first full-stealth virus, meaning that if someone looked at an infected disk using a debugger or similar tool, it would show them only the original boot sector (see stealth virus).

    When Brain hit computers across Europe, the machines slowed down and crashed. Critical military and university functions slowed to a crawl, while emails took days to send.

    Graham Cluley, a cybersecurity expert at Symantec at the time, was explaining this worm-like attack to a conference audience. He joked that it could lead to some office romances as people’s phones and pagers started to go off wildly. The worm was spreading fast, and several home users and companies lost data.

    The NASA Virus

    In the wake of the infamous NASA worm, computer experts nationwide rushed to prioritize security. At Glenn, engineers worked to build better virus-detection software and even a portable system that could be used to clean up infected computers remotely. The effort helped usher in a new era of cybersecurity.

    In addition to focusing on preventing and identifying infections in astronauts aboard the International Space Station, space immunologists, and virologists study the reactivation of latent viruses due to microgravity. These studies help scientists understand what to expect on long-duration missions like the Moon and beyond.

    Technologies tested on the space station – such as an air-quality sensor that detects contaminants by “sniffing” a person’s breath – have also helped fight COVID-19 on Earth. Combined with weather and other remote sensing data, they can generate forecasts of disease transmission, allowing citizens to take steps to limit exposure.

    The Kaseya Hack

    One of the most recent and widely publicized hacks came when hackers infiltrated Kaseya, gained access to their customer’s data, and demanded a ransom for its return. This attack was particularly serious because the victims were managed service providers (MSPs)—smaller companies that may not have their tech departments or the resources to keep up with regular updates. These MSPs use Kaseya systems to ensure the safety of their clients, which is why this attack was so dangerous.

    The hackers infiltrated the company’s software system and inserted a corrupt update. Then they spread that update through their network—and from there, the malicious software spread to its targets. This technique is called “supply chain” malware, and it was the same strategy used in a recent attack on the security product SolarWinds.

    This attack also shows how much damage hackers can do in a short amount of time. The repercussions of these attacks go beyond financial loss and quantifiable metrics and extend to real-life disruptions like access to food and supplies, school closures, and more.


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    Sergei Prakapovich is a special features writer at Gaming Ideology. With a knack for in-depth analysis and storytelling, Sergei crafts compelling articles that explore the intricacies of the gaming world, offering unique insights and perspectives to readers.