Cyber crime has come a long way from War Games: Cyber criminals are more advanced than ever. Learn about the history of cyber crime and find out how cybercrime first started and evolved – and most importantly – how to protect yourself from it.
Where Does Cyber Crime Come From; Where Doesn’t It Come From Is More Like It
You may have wondered where or what the first instance of cyber crime was and the answers may not surprise you. The first instances of cybercrime were committed before the Internet even came into existence and involved … data theft. It only makes sense. Computers, computer networks and the Internet were created for the creation, storage and transfer of government and corporate information, information that is very valuable to the right people. The creation of a digitized methods may have pushed mankind into the 21st century but it did the same thing for criminals. They want what we have and the harder we make it for them to find, retrieve and utilize the more they will want to take it. If not for personal gains then just because they can.
How Cyber Crime Has Evolved
The history and evolution of cybercrime are easy to track and coincide with the evolution of the Internet itself. The first crimes were of course simple hacks to steak information from local networks but as the Internet became more established so too did the attacks.
- While cyber crime existed before this, the first major wave of cyber crime came with the proliferation of email during the late 80’s. It allowed for a host of scams and/or malware to be delivered to your inbox. Remember the Nigerian Prince scam? “Greetings, I am a down-and-out prince from Nigeria. I need help getting millions out of my country and all you have to do is send me some money first to set-up the transfer. Once done I’ll share my millions with you” … yeah right.
- The next wave in the cyber crime history timeline came in the 90’s with the advancement of web browsers. At the time there were a multitude to choose from, many more than today, and most were vulnerable to viruses. Viruses were delivered through Internet connections whenever questionable websites were visited. Some caused your computer to run slow, others may have caused annoying pop-up advertising to crowd your screen or redirect you to the nastiest porn sites.
- Cyber crime really began to take off in the early 2,000’s when social media came to life. The surge of people putting all the information they could into a profile database created a flood of personal information and the rise of ID theft. Thieves used the information in a number of ways including accessing bank accounts, setting up credit cards or other financial fraud.
- The latest wave is the establishment of a global criminal industry totaling nearly a half-trillion dollars annually. These criminals operate in gangs, use well-established methods and target anything and everyone with a presence on the web.
An Abridged History Of Cyber Crime
The exact origin of cyber crime, the very first instance in which someone committed a crime across a computer network, is impossible to know. What is possible to know is the first major attack on a digital network and then use that as a reference point of event in the evolution of cyber based crimes.
1971 – John Draper, a phone phreak, discovers that a whistle given out as a prize in boxes of Cap’n Crunch Cereal produced the same tones as telephone switching computers of the time. Phone phreak is a term used to describe computer programmers obsessed with phone networks, the basis of modern day computer networking. He built a “blue box” with the whistle that would allow him to make free long distance phone calls, and then published instruction on how to make it. The instances of wire fraud rose significantly.
1973 – A teller at a local New York bank used a computer to embezzle over $2 million dollars.
1978 – The first electronic bulletin board system came online and quickly became a preferred method of communication for the cyber world. It allowed fast, free exchange of knowledge including tips and tricks for hacking into computer networks.
1981 – Ian Murphy, known as Captain Zap to his fans, was the first person convicted of a cyber crime. He hacked into the AT&T network and changed the internal clock to charge off-hours rates at peak times. He received 1,000 hours of community service and 2.5 years of probation, a mere slap on the wrist compared to today’s penalties, and was the inspiration for the movie Sneakers.
1982 – Elk Cloner, a virus, is written as a joke by a 15 year old kid. It is one of the first known viruses to leave its original operating system and spread in the “wild”. It attacked Apple II operating systems and spread by floppy disk.
1983 – The movie War Games is released and brings hacking to the mainstream. The movie depicts a teenage boy who hacks into a government computer system through a back door and nearly brings the world to World War III.
1986 – Congress passes the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, making hacking and theft illegal.
1988 – Robert T. Morris jr., a graduate student at Cornell, released a self-replicating worm onto the Defense Department’s APRANET. ARPANET is the precursor to the Internet as we know it today. The worm gets out of hand, infects more than 600,000 networked computers and lands Mr. Morris with a $10,000 fine and 3 years probation, another slap on the wrist.
1989 – The first large-scale case of ransomware is reported. The virus posed as a quiz on the AIDS virus and, once downloaded, held computer data hostage for $500. At the same time another group is arrested stealing US government and private sector data and selling it to the KGB.
1990 – The Legion Of Doom and Masters Of Deception, two cyber-based gangs, engage in online warfare. They actively block each other’s connections, hack into computers and steal data. These two groups were large-scale phone phreaks famous for numerous hacks into telephone mainframe infrastructure. The proliferation of the two groups, along with other cyber gangs, led to an FBI sting cracking down on BBS’s promoting credit card theft and wire fraud.
1993 – Kevin Poulson is caught and convicted for hacking into the phone systems. He took control of all phone lines going into an LA radio station in order to guarantee winning a call-in contest. At one point he was featured on America’s Most Wanted, when the phone lines for that show went mysteriously silent. When the FBI began their search he went on the run but was eventually caught. He was sentenced to 5 years in Federal penitentiary and was the first to have a ban on Internet use included in his sentence.
1994 – The World Wide Web is launched, allowing black hat hackers to move their product info from the old bulletin board systems to their very own websites. A student in the UK uses the information to hack into Korea’s nuclear program, NASA and other US agencies using only a Commodore Amiga personal computer and a “blueboxing” program found online.
1995 – Macro-viruses appear. Macro-viruses are viruses written in computer languages embedded within applications. These macros run when the application is opened, such as word processing or spreadsheet documents, and are an easy way for hackers to deliver malware. This is why opening unknown email attachments can be very risky. Macro-viruses are still hard to detect and are a leading cause of computer infection.
1996 – CIA Director John Deutsch testifies to Congress that foreign based organized crime rings were actively trying to hack US government and corporate networks. The US GAO announced that its files had been attacked by hackers at least 650,000 times, and that at least 60% of them were successful.
1997 – The FBI reports that over 85% of US companies had been hacked, and most don’t even know it. The Chaos Computer Club hack Quicken software and are able to make financial transfers without the bank or the account holder knowing about it.
1999 – The Melissa Virus is released. It becomes the most virulent computer infection to date and results in one of the first convictions for someone writing malware. The Melissa Virus was a macro-virus with the intention of taking over email accounts and sending out mass-mailings. The virus writer was accused of causing more than $80 million in damages to computer networks and sentenced to 5 years in prison.
2000 – The number and types of online attacks grows exponentially. Music retailer CD Universe is extorted for millions after its clients’ credit card information was published online. Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are launched, numerous times, against AOL, Yahoo! Ebay and many others. Fake news causes shares of Emulex stock to crash nearly 50%. The I Love You Virus spreads across the Internet. Then President Clinton says he doesn’t use email to talk with his daughter because the technology isn’t secure.
2002 – Shadow Crew’s website is launched. The website was a message board and forum for black hat hackers. Members could post, share and learn how to commit a multitude of cyber crimes and avoid capture. The site lasted for 2 years before being shut down by the Secret Service. 28 people were arrested in the US and 6 other countries.
2003 – SQL Slammer becomes the fastest spreading worm in history. It infected SQL servers and created a denial of service attack which affected speeds across the Internet for quite some time. In terms of infection speed, it spread across nearly 75,000 machines in under 10 minutes.
2007 – The instances of hacking, data theft and malware infections skyrockets. The numbers of records stolen, machines infected rise into the millions, the amount of damages caused into the billions. The Chinese government is accused of hacking into US and other governmental systems.
Why is Cybercrime So Prominent?
While it may seem like hostile governments are the number one culprit when it comes to online Internet attacks, this is not the case. According to estimates from United Nations cyber security experts, roughly 80% of all cyber-based crime is being committed by sophisticated gangs of criminals engaged in highly organized operations. The gangs operated just like legitimate businesses in that they maintain regular work hours with a hierarchy of members, working in tandem to create, operate and maintain whatever fraud it is they are focused on.
Crime lurks just below the surface of the Internet. It’s like a fungus you can’t see, spreading through the web one breach at a time. The reason it is able to spread the way it does comes down to a number of factors. First, the criminals can easily hide behind their terminals far from regulators, operating with impunity by using the latest high-tech software and networking techniques to mask their locations and misdirect any prying eyes. Second, the Internet provides easy access to just about everyone on the planet and when it comes down to brass tacks anyone with money or information to steal is probably connected and not hard to find. Third, if you want to run a scam you don’t have to be a programmer, all you have to do is know where to buy one.
The Internet is multilayered, there is the surface layer that anyone can get to but then there are deeper layers that are much harder to find, the Deep Web, and then there is the Deep Dark Web where illegal activities occur on a daily basis. I’m not talking about a members only access area, it’s easy to find those, I’m talking about websites that don’t care about their SEO, don’t care if the whole world can find them and even try to actively hide their sites from the public within the TOR network or other Internet overlay. These sites include everything imaginable ranging from innocent chat rooms where the members want to remain completely anonymous to sites where you can buy your very own malware.
How You Can Use Cyber Criminals’ Own Weapons Against Them
Despite the rising number of attacks and the growing risk you will be hacked, attacked or have your data stolen there are things you can do to prevent it. There is no fool-proof method, no guarantee you won’t be hacked but you can seriously limit the risks and the best way is to use a hackers own weapon against him, or her. One such tool is called VPN, virtual private network. The virtual private network is how cyber criminals are able to hide from law enforcement as it prevents their computer connections from being detected, monitored or tracked.
The technology itself dates back to the very start of the Internet itself and was originally intended as a security feature for government and big businesses. The VPN uses what is called a tunneling protocol to create secured connections that are undetectable and untraceable and then enhances that protection with data encryption. What its creators did not realize is that while they accomplished their goals the end result produced many unintended consequences. One of those is that VPN works just as well to protect a criminal as it does to protect an innocent.
The good news is that using VPN does a lot to enhance the security of today’s Internet users. It can be used to protect single devices or an entire network. It can be used to protect your family or business from outside attack, or to connect a remote device to a home network with safety. The best part is though its encryption, the technology that scrambles your data into unreadable jibberish, because it makes attacking a VPN user so difficult and time consuming, black hats are more likely to search for easier prey than waste their valuable time on you.
Originally VPNs were only available to governments, big business or those with considerable cyber skills. Today, thanks to companies like Le VPN, top rated VPN services are available on a commercial basis. Le VPN supports 3 protocols with varying levels of protection to meet all of today’s cyber security needs. For only $4.95 per month businesses, individuals and families can make themselves virtually invisible to attack.
Cyber crime is out of control, it happens every day and everywhere. Depending on where you look, estimates of how much cyber criminals make is astounding, nearly $450 billion last year alone and this is only expected to go up. To put it into further perspective, the number of records stolen last year is also quite high, over 2 billion, including at least 100 million health insurance files, mostly US. The biggest problem isn’t so much that there is so much crime on the Internet, it’s that companies take a long time to reveal they had a breach and do little to help stop the spread. When you hear about a data breach on the news it’s usually month’s after the fact, too late to do anything about it. Bottom line, cyber crime is here to stay and the only thing you can do about is be prepared. That means using antivirus, antimalware, Internet best practices and a VPN. You’ve probably already got the first three, why wait for something bad to happen, get Le VPN today.
*Article Updated On October 18th, 2018.*
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