A Brief History of Hacking Part 2: 1990-2016

A Brief History of Hacking Part 2: 1990-2016

As we learned in the first part of this blog, the hacker movement has featured some of the most ingenious minds of the past 100 years. In today's blog we'll cover the history of hacking from 1990 to 2016, and take a look at some of the biggest hacks so far.




  • The U.S. Secret Service conduct Operation Sundevil, a nationwide crackdown on illegal computer hacking. The culmination of an 18-month long investigation, the operation results in four arrests and the confiscation of computers, other hardware and software. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international non-profit digital rights group, is established in response to the operation.
  • The U.K. passes the Computer Misuse Act 1990, criminalising unauthorised access to any computer system.


  • The first DEF CON hacking conference takes place.
  • AOL gives users access to USENET, a global distributed discussion system regarded as the precursor to the Internet forums of today.


  • A group of hackers led by Russian software engineer Vladimir Levin access Citibank customer accounts through the bank’s dial-up wire transfer services and steal around USD 10 million. Levin was caught in 1996 and delivered into U.S. custody in 1997, after which he was sentenced to three years in jail. Authorities recovered all but USD 400,000 of the stolen funds.


  • The websites of the U.S. Department of Justice, the CIA and the U.S. Air Force are hacked and altered.
  • The U.S. General Accounting Office reveals that some 250,000 attempts were made to hack the Defense Department’s computer files in 1995 alone. Around 65% of the attempts proved successful.
  • MP3s gain popularity and hackers set up sharing sites.


  • The Recording Industry Association of America responds to the growing popularity of MP3s with a campaign of lawsuits to shut down file sharing sites. The sites are traced using the owners’ ISPs.


  • The Internet Software Consortium suggests the use of domain-name system security extensions (DNSSEC) to protect and secure DNS servers.
  • Seven members of the hacker collective L0pht testify before the U.S. Congressional Government Affairs committee about ‘Weak Computer Security in Government’.
  • The first annual industry survey from Information Security finds that almost 75% of surveyed organisations experienced an IT security incident in 1997.


  • Following Microsoft’s Windows 98 release, software security is mass adopted and hundreds of patches are released to address new and existing bugs in both Windows and other software.




  • The ILOVEYOU worm, a computer virus written in VBScript infects millions of computers across the world within hours of its release. Considered to be one of the most damaging worms ever, the ILOVEYOU worm was created by a computer college student as part of his thesis.
  • Jonathan James, a teenage hacker, becomes the first juvenile to be sent to jail for his activities.


  • Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks come into play, with Microsoft taking the brunt of the attacks. DoS attacks disrupt the DNS paths that link users to websites, making it impossible to access the website in question.
  • U.S. and Chinese hackers engage in a series of web defacements targeting government websites. Taking place over eight days, the event is dubbed The Sixth Cyberwar.
  • Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian programmer, becomes the first person to be arrested for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).


  • Bill Gates launches a Microsoft security campaign with a focus on internal training and quality control.
  • The Bush administration announces the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Among the DHS’s responsibilities is protecting U.S. IT infrastructure.


  • Hacktivist group Anonymous is formed.   


  • Jason Smathers, an AOL employee, steals the details of 92 million AOL customers and sells the information to spammers. It results in 7 billion spam emails and a year in prison for Smathers.


  • A Turkish hacker by the name of iSKORPiTX successfully hacks 21,549 websites in one go.
  • Robert Moore and Edwin Pena commit the first Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) crime in the U.S.


  • George Hutz becomes the first person to unlock the iPhone, enabling the phone to be used with different carriers.


  • Anonymous launches Project Chanology, a coordinated attack on Scientology website servers across the world, resulting in the theft and distribution of private Scientology documents.


  • The Conficker worm infects millions of PCs across the world, including a large number of top-security level government computer networks.




  • Google reveals it has been the target of highly sophisticated attacks on the company’s corporate infrastructure. The attacks, named ‘Operation Aurora’, are traced back to Chinese hacker groups.  
  • The Stuxnet worm, a cyber attack on the nuclear facilities of Iran, is discovered by hacker VirusBlokAda.
  • MALCON, the first malware conference takes place in India.
  • George Hotz becomes the first person to hack the Sony PlayStation 3.


  • A Turkish hacker by the name of JeOPaRDY hacks the Bank of America website, stealing an estimated 85,000 credit card numbers and accounts.
  • The hacker group LulzSec hacks Sony repeatedly, stealing data from 77 million accounts and forcing the PlayStation Network offline.
  • Bangladeshi hacker TiGER-M@TE hacks 700,000 websites in one go.


  • A Saudi hacker, 0xOmar publishes over 400,000 credit card details online.
  • Hacker group Swagg Security hacks Foxconn, publishing a vast amount of data including email and server logins plus the bank account credentials of large companies including Microsoft and Apple.


  • The Mt.Gox Bitcoin exchange files for bankruptcy after USD 460 million is stolen by hackers. A further USD 27.4 million is stolen.
  • The White House computer system is successfully hacked.



As our dependence on technology continues to grow, so does the risk of hacking. From iPhones to nuclear facilities it seems that anything with a network connection can be hacked. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly important for governments to ensure they have the right security in place to protect invaluable IT infrastructure from both mischievous and malicious hackers.

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