Building a Culture Resilient to Social Engineering Attacks

2024/ 14/02

Most of the attacks mentioned in this article are not caused by sophisticated hacking techniques. Instead, they are mainly due to social engineering, one of the most traditional methods of hacking. 98% of cyber attacks involve some level of social engineering. It is considered the most effective way to exploit vulnerabilities. Security starts at the point of entry into a company. It is not just an afterthought or an external layer of protection; it is an integral part of the product development process, for example.

Over the past two decades, the landscape of cyberattacks has undergone significant transformations, evolving into more sophisticated, stealthy, and wide-reaching forms than ever before. This blog delves into the most impactful cyber attacks of the last 20 years, exploring their profound effects on our everyday lives, businesses, and even entire nations. Reflecting on these past breaches provides valuable insights into the current state of cyber threats. Moreover, recognizing the lessons history imparts, studying these pivotal moments in cybersecurity history becomes instrumental in fortifying our defenses against future data breaches.

The 2000s: Cybercrime Activities Intensifies

MafiaBoy (2000)

Michael Calce, known as "Mafiaboy," orchestrated a series of highly publicized Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on prominent internet platforms like Yahoo!, Amazon, CNN, and eBay.
The attacks, dubbed Rivolta or riot in Italian, paralyzed these websites for hours, resulting in an estimated $1.7 billion in damages. Calce was apprehended, charged with 58 counts of computer-related crimes, and sentenced to 8 months in a youth detention facility.

Blaster Worm (2003)

Detected by Microsoft Product Support Services in August 2003, the Blaster Worm, also known as Lovsan or MSBlas, targeted computers running on Windows XP, Windows NT 4.0, and Windows 2000. Exploiting a security vulnerability in Microsoft Remote Procedure Call (RPC), Blaster spread rapidly across the internet by scanning random IP addresses, infecting vulnerable computers, and initiating the infection process.

Heartland Payment Systems (2008)

Heartland Payment Systems suffered a breach in 2008, compromising 100 million debit and credit card numbers. Attackers exploited SQL vulnerabilities to install malware, enabling the theft of card information, which went undetected for months and incurred nearly $200 million in damages to various companies, banks, and insurers.

Operation Aurora (2009)

In January 2010, Chinese human rights activists' Gmail accounts were hacked in what became known as Operation Aurora. Per Google's investigation, sophisticated phishing attacks and exploitation of Internet Explorer vulnerabilities were utilized to obtain users' passwords. Approximately 20 other major companies' source codes were also targeted. Google's disclosure of the attack sparked international condemnation, with the U.S. government calling for an investigation and Google threatening to withdraw from China if the attacks weren't stopped.

The 2000s witnessed a surge in cyber attacks' frequency and complexity, attributed to factors like internet proliferation, e-commerce expansion, and evolving hacking methodologies. These incidents underscored the vulnerability of organizations of all sizes to cyber threats, emphasizing the collective responsibility to safeguard against such attacks.

The 2010s: The Ransomware Era

Stuxnet (2010)

A malicious computer worm believed to be developed by the United States and Israel to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. Accidentally spread beyond its intended target, damaging multiple electro-mechanical equipment in Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facilities.

Sony PlayStation Hack (2011)

77 million account holders' personal information stolen through distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks on Sony's servers. Sony PlayStation Network shutdown for 23 days, incurring an estimated $171 million loss.

Yahoo Breach (2013 & 2014)

Two of the largest data breaches affecting all 3 billion Yahoo user accounts. Russian hacker group exploited a spear-phishing email to gain access to Yahoo's network, compromising sensitive user data.

Snowden Revelations (2013)

Edward Snowden leaked classified information revealing secret surveillance programs conducted by the US government. Sparked international debate and led to the passage of the USA Freedom Act, reforming NSA's surveillance programs.

CryptoLocker Ransomware (2013)

Trojan virus spread through phishing emails, encrypting files of infected computers. Infected over 250,000 Windows computers in its initial 4 months, demanding ransom payments for file decryption.

Target Security Breach (2013)

Cybercriminals stole over 40 million credit and debit card numbers and 70 million customer records from Target. Malware attack initiated through a third-party vendor's remote access to Target's network.

Ashley Madison Data Breach (2015)

Over 30 million user accounts compromised, exposing sensitive information. Attack by The Impact Team due to moral objections against the website's activities.

WannaCry Ransomware (2017)

Infected over 230,000 computers in 150 countries, exploiting a Microsoft Windows vulnerability. Demanded ransom payments for file decryption, affecting organizations like NHS, FedEx, and Nissan.

NotPetya Attack (2017)

Most destructive malware causing $10 billion in global damage, spread through a supply chain attack. Initially believed to be ransomware but later revealed as a wiper, disrupting operations worldwide.

Equifax Hack (2017)

Personal information of 147 million Americans exposed due to a vulnerability in Equifax's web application firewall. Equifax fined $575 million for its role in the breach and offered free credit monitoring services.

Capital One Hack (2019)

Approximately 100 million US and 6 million Canadian customers affected by a misconfigured web application firewall exploited by a former AWS employee. No credit card numbers or login credentials stolen, leading to an $80 million fine and $190 million class-action lawsuit settlement.

In the 2010s, new cyber attack vectors like ransomware and cryptojacking emerged, posing significant challenges to the cybersecurity industry. However, this era also witnessed considerable progress in developing tools and techniques to combat cyber threats.

The 2020s: Billions of Dollars at Stake

Marriott International Data Breach (2020)

Marriot fined approximately $23.8 million due to a 2014 data breach discovered in 2020. Over 5.2 million guests affected by a social engineering attack on a Marriott employee, compromising personal details and credit card information.

Twitter Data Breach (2020)

Hackers targeted approximately 130 high-profile Twitter accounts, including those of Barack Obama and Elon Musk. Access gained to Twitter administrative tools through a phone spear-phishing tactic, resulting in a Bitcoin scam and $118,000 theft.

SolarWinds Hack (2020)

Thousands of organizations globally affected by a Russian intelligence group, APT29. Attack initiated through a malicious code inserted into SolarWinds' Orion software, compromising systems of companies like Cisco and Microsoft.

Microsoft Exchange Server Data Breach (2021)

Chinese hacking group, Hafnium, exploited four zero-day vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange Server, affecting thousands of organizations. Sensitive data stolen and additional malware installed, prompting a joint international investigation.

Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack (2021)

Russian hacking group, DarkSide, compromised Colonial Pipeline's operational technology systems, demanding a $4.4 million ransom. Ceased operations along the East Coast to prevent ransomware spread, eventually paying the ransom due to operational disruption.

Log4J Vulnerability (2021)

Critical zero-day vulnerability discovered in December 2021, posing a Remote Code Execution threat. Patch released by the Apache Software Foundation, but widespread system patching took weeks to months, leaving numerous IT environments vulnerable.

NVIDIA Ransomware Attack (2022)

Ransomware group Lapsus$ stole 1 terabyte of information from NVIDIA, impacting Ethereum mining capability. NVIDIA restored systems from backup and implemented security measures, experiencing significant damage.

Uber Data Breach (2022)

Over 77,000 Uber employees' personal information compromised through a phishing email attack.
Hacker group Lapsus$ suspected, with access gained through an employee's personal device, causing potential system shutdown.

Rockstar Games Hack (2022)

Hacker accessed Rockstar Games' system, stealing confidential data including Grand Theft Auto 6 development footage. Social engineering tactics utilized, with data offered for sale back to Rockstar Games.

Costa Rica Ransomware Attack (2022)

Russian ransomware gang Conti declared responsible for a ransomware attack disrupting Costa Rica's computer networks. Critical systems affected, demanding a $10 million ransom, but Costa Rica refused payment, seeking assistance from other countries and private sectors.

DuoLingo Data Breach (2023)

Personal data of 2.6 million DuoLingo users exposed on a hacking forum. Data scraped from company's public profile information using an exposed API, highlighting vulnerability.

HCA Healthcare Hack (2023)

HCA Healthcare experienced a major data breach caused by a ransomware attack, exposing personal information of 11 million patients. Data posted on a hacking forum, raising concerns over patient privacy and healthcare cybersecurity measures.

The 2020s have witnessed a surge in cyber-attacks, emphasizing the critical need for enhanced cybersecurity measures and increased awareness of the risks posed by cyber threats.

The majority of the assaults discussed in this article are not the result of highly skilled hackers. Rather, social engineering—one of the oldest forms of hacking—is mostly to blame for them.