Hacker Horror Stories: The Scary World of Cybercrime

March 24, 2017


Halloween is all about spooky stories involving ghosts, goblins, and ghouls. But in our technologically advanced world, few things are scarier than the possibility of devices and systems being hacked by cybercriminals.

Today's hackers have capabilities and attack strategies that are more frightening than ever before. According to a report from McAfee, the annual cost of cybercrime has reached a shocking level, exceeding $400 billion this year. In fact, hackers are now responsible for stealing as much as 20 percent of the internet's $3 trillion annual value. If this isn't scary, I don't know what is.

It seems no system or device is beyond hackers’ reach these days. In the spirit of the season, let's take a look at some of the more frightening recent attacks and the real-world spooks behind them.

The Hacking Potential Within the Internet of Things

The 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey showed viewers that there are few things more terrifying than when technology takes over and acts on its own. This is just what happened to the film's main character, Dr. David Bowman, had a whole new adventure on his hands when the intelligent computer HAL looks to take over the mission.

While this type of event happening in the real world seems far-fetched, hackers are closer than many realize to achieving such a feat. In early 2014, the world discovered just how vulnerable smart devices could be when cybercriminals leveraged Wi-Fi-enabled home appliances to spread a staggering number of malicious emails.

According to BGR contributor Chris Smith, hackers created a botnet that included smart TVs and smart refrigerators, among other items, to deliver over 750,000 malware-laced emails. This event represented the first proven hack of the Internet of Things.

"Botnets are already a major security concern and the emergences of thingbots may make the situation much worse," noted security expert David Knight. "Many of these devices are poorly protected at best and consumers have virtually no way to detect or fix infections when they occur."

This case shows that, without proper protection, inanimate smart objects could be turned against their users.

Important Files Disappearing Forever

Another common thread running through many horror tales involves the mystery surrounding a missing individual and the search to discover what happened. This theme was also taken to the virtual world with the emergence of CryptoWall, a variant of the dreaded CryptoLocker infection. Hackers lock down everything on a victim's computer, including all their important files, photos, and any other sensitive information living on the device. Attackers then demand a ransom for the return of this content, which in many cases fails to resolve the issue even when paid. MyCE's Jan Willem Aldershoff reported that, as of August 2014, more than 625,000 individuals had become CryptoWall victims.

Just imagine what these people must have gone through: you boot up your computer, ready to complete a range of different tasks, only to be greeted by a red notification screen that tells you all your files and programs are out of reach. You read on to discover that unless you pay a considerable amount of money—from hundreds to thousands of dollars—you'll never be able to access this information again.

According to Aldershoff, the creators of CryptoWall have made a considerable sum from the insidious program, totaling more than $1.1 million in ransoms, despite the fact that less than 1 percent of victims paid. One individual forked over $10,000 for the return of his files.

Thankfully, several solutions have emerged to combat this infection and prevent users from having to pay for access to their own information. BotCrawl recommended using a system restore program, as well as removing and deleting the affected accounts.

The Terrors of Medical Device Hacking

If you thought appliances under the control of hackers were scary, imagine how terrifying it would be to have a cybercriminal manipulate an internally-implanted medical device. While there is no concrete evidence of this ever occurring, Bloomberg Businessweek noted that there is considerable potential for this to happen in the current environment.

"It wasn't science fiction: there's ample evidence that it's possible to seize control of such implants from a distance," wrote Bloomberg Businessweek contributor Joshua Brustein.

Consider the frightening possibilities that could come from cybercriminals taking over devices like pacemakers and insulin pumps. These life-saving gadgets could potentially be used against the wearer in the scariest of fashions. Even more hair-raising is the fact that it is easier than many think to hack these devices.

"It does take a specialized skill, but with more and more security researchers concentrating on embedded devices, the still set required is becoming more common," said renowned hacker Barnaby Jack, who died unexpectedly in 2013, just one week before he was scheduled to deliver a speech on breaching medical devices.

These cases all show the frightening power hackers wield over connected devices and computer systems. To prevent such alarming events, proper protection is needed, such as the automated Powertech security solutions offered by HelpSystems. These protection measures provide best-in-class security and compliance with a range of industry-specific regulations. Don't give hackers any opportunity to scare you. Protect your systems with Powertech today.


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