What is the worst thing about being hacked? Is it losing your data? The financial costs? Having to spend tedious hours getting your system back to where it was? Or is it the embarrassment?
According to Wikipedia, a hacker is someone who displays “playful cleverness.” Hackers take “the serious humorously and their humor seriously.” And in the beginning, most hacks were done by hobbyists, intent on having some serious fun at their targets’ expense. Breaking into networks was a way to demonstrate skill, to prove it could be done. And many hackers still have a code that they live by.
However, we are now in the age of cybercrime when crackers and cyber gangs employ every possible hack, malware and scam to make much money as possible. Criminals know that our PCs facilitate in the most intimate activities in our lives. We bank, shop and flirt via our PCs, as if no one can see what we’re doing. Yet, if our system becomes compromised, every byte of our personal data is there for a criminal to use.
Crackers have rarely gotten into the business of exposing private details, unless they were trying to satisfy a personal or political vendetta. But now—as social networks increasingly entwine or real and our digital lives—criminals recognize that our private lives can be used against us. They can play with their victims’ consciences to soak money out of even the most rational computer user. This has given rise to a new generation of extortionware that is designed to threaten both our wallets and our reputations.
From the harmless to the heartless, here are the 5 most embarrassing hacks in history:
If you ever received the message “You have been bearded”, you know how humiliating it can be to have your PC hit by a Trojan. In the summer of 2000, this nasty Trojan installed a vile, not-safe-for-work desktop wallpaper that once seen can never be deleted from your memory.
The Sober worm didn’t do much damage to your system, but it did give all of your email contacts something to think about. Disguised as a computer security warning (as many attacks often are), Sober included a SMTP engine that sent out to every email address it could find. If the person who received the email—which often used a provocative subject line like “You have sent me a virus!”—installed the attached executable file, the attack spread and spread and spread. It was quickly disarmed up by most antivirus software, but the embarrassment still lingers.
3. You got phished.
For most of us, getting phished can result in our accounts being hijacked and our contacts being harassed. But if you’re a Facebook board member, a phishing attack can make international news. Facebook investor Jim Breyer’s 2301 Facebook friends found out that even insiders at the world’s largest social network are vulnerable. It isn’t clear whether Breyer’s account was hacked or he fell for a scam himself. What is clear is that when you use a social network, any mistake you make can affect both your friends and your reputation.
4. Hentai virus.
This virus took embarrassment to a whole new level. Users who were infected by it had their web history was published online. The victim was then instructed to pay 1,500 yen to have the history deleted. What was particularly insidious about this attack is that the criminals knew the victim probably had something to hide since the virus was hidden to a Hentai porn video game (IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT “HENTAI” IS, PLEASE DO NOT GOOGLE IT WHILE AT WORK). Every virus teaches a lesson, and as PC magazine said, this virus taught us all, “Don’t enter any personal information in the videogame porn that you download from Japanese torrent sites.”
5. ICPP Copyright Foundation
The F-Secure Labs is familiar with Trojans that extort users to get their own documents back. But this newly discovered Trojan played on the nearly universal fear of profound legal trouble. Infected users were told that illegal torrents had been found on their system. The choice: Pay $400 or face jail time and fines. (Of course, the real solution was to delete the Trojan using a tool like our free Online Scanner.) What was most impressive about this attack was the detail and professionalism of the design. The use of legalese and small print tapped into a latent fear of many computer users: Someday you’re going to have to pay for all that music on your iPod.
Guilt and shame are powerful motivators. But when your computer starts acting suspiciously or your software starts making demands, the smartest thing you can do is to scan your system.
CC image credit: Perfecto Insecto