It has become a major movie cliche: the computer hacker who, typing furiously under great pressure, needs only a few more seconds to break into “the mainframe.” Something akin to a superhero, the nerdy but attractive character at the keyboard accomplished the impossible, bypassing all necessary security walls in the nick of time.
This scenario certainly is exciting, but it is the type of thing that only happens on the film or TV screen, right? Read on for five unbelievable computer hacking incidents that seem too incredible to be true.
1. The 1995 Citibank Hack
Before Russian software programmer Vladimir Levin hacked into the New York IT system of Citibank in 1995, few industry experts would have thought such an attack possible. Sitting comfortably in his St. Petersburg apartment, Levin authorized a series of fraudulent banking transactions that drew a total of roughly $10 million from individual accounts around the world. Both Citibank and the FBI fortunately tracked many of the transactions, and Levin was extradited to the US, where he served three years in prison.
2. The 2000 MafiaBoy Hack
When MafiaBoy (the screen name of Canadian teenager name Michael Calce) hacked some of the top sites on the internet in 2000, people simply couldn’t believe that he could pull off such a coordinated attack at just 15 years of age. Using a DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) approach, he overwhelmed the IT networks of Amazon, CNN, eBay, Yahoo, eTrade, and Dell, resulting in financial losses estimated at $1.2 billion. When he was caught, MafiaBoy admitted that he did it simply to impress his fellow hackers.
3. The 2004 Delta Airlines Hack
Another teenage hacker, German Sven Jaschan brought down the entire IT system of Delta Airlines, among those of other large corporate entities, as an 18-year-old college student. An innovator in the hacker world, Jaschan allegedly coded the Sasser worm. Famous among IT experts for affecting Microsoft Windows, this self-replicating and self-distributing computer virus successfully infected tens of millions of computers that span the globe. attacked vulnerable Microsoft Windows operating systems.
4. 2010 Marriott International Hack
One of the most unusual cyberattacks in history, this extortion attempt doubled as a search for employment. Hungarian citizen Attila Nemeth infected the security firm Marriott International with a malicious virus and then threatened further damage if they didn’t give him a job. Marriott responded to Nemeth with a fake employee account and the promise of work. After receiving forms of personal identification that include his passport and resume, the company passed the information to the US Secret Service.
5. The 2014 iCloud Celebrity Hacks
In what was certainly one of the most salacious of all hacking incidents, a team of hackers in various US locations used phishing techniques to gain access to the Apple iCloud accounts of numerous A-list Hollywood celebrities including Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence. After releasing private photos and videos (some of which contained nudity), two affiliated hackers were sentenced to roughly a year in prison.