The History of Hacking

It may seem that, in the space of a few years, cyber security breaches have gone from being the stuff of science fiction films and a distant concern to all but the most technically minded people, to headline news and a very real threat that most organisations can't afford to ignore.

What many people don't realise is that 'hacking' has been around long before even the first computers were developed, and it is only now, as the boundaries between then online and offline worlds are blurring more than ever before, that governments, organisations and ordinary people are taking it seriously.

ECSC was founded in 2000 in recognition of this ever-growing threat, and we continue to be at the frontline of product and service development, in order to help organisations better understand the security risks they face, improve their existing information security management and protection, and be able to respond effectively should they have a breach.

If you're still not convinced that cyber security threats aren't going to go away, take a look at the timeline below.

  • 1903

    Marconi's apparently secure wireless telegraphy technology is disrupted by inventor Nevil Maskelyne, who sends insulting Morse code messages through the auditorium projector at a demonstration.

  • 1932

    Polish cryptologists break the Enigma machine code.

  • 1943

    A French computer expert hacks the punched card used by the Nazis to locate Jews.

  • 1957

    A blind seven-year-old boy discovers that whistling the fourth E above middle C (a frequency of 2600Hz) interacts with AT&T's switches.

  • 1971

    John Draper invents the 'blue box', a method of making free long distance calls using a toy whistle with a frequency of 2600Hz, found in a box of Captain Crunch cereal.

  • 1975

    Under the names 'Berkeley Blue' and 'Oaf Tobar', Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs begin making 'blue box' devices that generate different tones to aid with phone hacking.

  • 1981

    Ian Murphy, aka 'Captain Zap', becomes the first hacker to be tried and convicted as a felon, after breaking into AT&T's computers and altering the clocks that controlled billing rates.

  • 1983

    In his Turing Award acceptance speech 'Reflections on Trusting Trust', Ken Thompson mentions "hacking" and presents the backdoor attack now known as the 'Thompson Hack'.

    Six teenagers from Milwaukee, calling themselves the '414s', are arested by the FBI after breaking into more than 60 computer networks.

  • 1984

    The Comprehensive Crime Control Act gives the Secret Service jurisdiction over computer fraud.

    In his science fiction novel 'Neuromancer', William Gibson introduces several terms that will go on to be familiar parts of hacker jargon, including 'cyberspace', 'the matrix'.

  • 1986

    The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which makes it a crime to break into computer systems, is passed by US Congress. It does not cover juveniles.

    The first conviction for illegally accessing a computer system under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 is appealed and overturned, as hacking is not within the legal definition of forgery.

    Arrest of a hacker who calls himself The Mentor, author of 'The Hacker's Manifesto'.

  • 1988

    First felony convinction in the US under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act 1986, following the release and distribution of the Morris Worm, one of the first computer worms distributed via the Internet.

    The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) is created by DARPA.

  • 1990

    The Computer Misuse Act 1990 is passed in the United Kingdom, criminalising any unauthorised access to computer systems.

  • 1993

    The first DEF CON hacking conference takes place in Las Vegas. It is meant to be a one-time event to mark the end of BBSs, but will go on to be an annual gathering.

  • 1994

    Netscape Navigator, a new easy-to-use browser, is launched, making the Internet widely accessible, and, in turn, changing the face of hacking.

  • 1995

    Kevin Mitnick, "the most wanted man in cyberspace", is captured by federal agents and charged with stealing 20,000 credit card numbers. He will be kept in prison for the next four years awaiting trial.

  • 1998

    Yahoo! notifies Internet users that anyone recently visiting its site might have downloaded a worm planted by hackers claiming a 'logic bomb' will go off if Kevin Mitnick is not released from prison.

  • 1999

    The Melissa worm is released, becoming the most costly malware outbreak to date.

    American Express introduces the "Blue" smart card, the first chip-based credit card in the US.

  • 2000

    The ILOVEYOU worm, made by a college student in the Philippines for his thesis, infects millions of computers worldwide within a few hours of its release, becoming one of the most damaging worms ever.

    Jonathan James becomes first juvenile to serve jail time for hacking.

    One of the biggest Denial of Service attacks to date is launched against eBay, Yahoo!, Amazon, Dell and CNN.

  • 2001

    Microsoft falls victim to a denial of Service attack, preventing millions of users from accessing its web pages for two days.

    Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov is the first person criminally charged with violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) when he is arrested at Def Con.

  • 2002

    Klez.H becomes the biggest malware outbreak in terms of machines infected.

    The 10,000th CISSP certification is conferred.

  • 2003

    The hacktivist group Anonymous is formed.

  • 2004

    An AOL staff member steals the details of 92 million customers and sells them to spammers, resulting in 7 billion spam emails being sent.

  • 2007

    United Nations website is hacked.

    17 year old George Hotz becomes the first person to carrier-unlock an iPhone.

  • 2008

    Anonymous attacks Scientology web servers around the world, stealing private documents and distributing them online.

  • 2010

    The first Malware Conference, MALCON, takes place in India, supported by the Government of India.

  • 2011

    The Hacker group Lulz Sec is formed.

    One of the largest data breaches ever occurs when an 'external intrusion' sends the PlayStation Network offline, and compromises personally identifying information of 77 million accounts.

    Sesame Street's Youtube channel is hacked, streaming pornographic content for 22 minutes.

  • 2012

    The UK Home Secretary blocks the extradition of NASA hacker Gary McKinnon after a ten-year legal battle.

  • 2013

    An attack on Adobe leads to around 38 million accounts being breached, and the source code for one of its major software products, Photoshop, being stolen.

    Burger King's Twitter account is hacked, and displays the McDonald's logo following the horse meat scandal in Europe.

  • 2014

    The Bitcoin exchange Mt.Gox files for bankruptcy after $460million is stolen by hackers and another $27.4million disappears from its bank accounts.

    The White House computer system is hacked.

  • 2015

    Around 157,000 TalkTalk customers had their personal details accessed in a breach which cost the company up to £35m in upfront costs.

    Thousands of hearts around the world were broken when hackers released a 9.7GB data dump containing information on users of the extramarital dating site, Ashley Madison.

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