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Historic Hacks of the 2000s, Part 1

Last month, we investigated hack attacks from the infancy of the internet era. Now we're moving forward in time to more sophisticated hacks and more diabolical digital malefactors.

Note: This is Part 1 of 2. To read Part 2, click here.

 

MafiaBoy was a child prodigy ... of hacking.The 1990s saw the fall of Communism, the rise of alternate media and the widespread adoption and integration of the World Wide Web. It was also the decade where cyberattacks came out of the shadows and onto the front pages of newspapers.

 

Hackers may have come of age in the 90s, but it was during the following decade that they really hit their stride in both notoriety and level of damage done. In this installment of our series, we’ll consider five historic hacks of the new millennium.

 

MafiaBoy (2000)

 

If good things can come in small packages, then so too can terrible things ... like Michael Calce (better known to many as MafiaBoy), the perpetrator behind the highly publicized denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on a number of leading e-commerce websites resulting in total damages estimated at 1.7 billion Canadian dollars.

 

Calce wasn’t a precocious child — he was a genuine prodigy. He received his first computer at age 6 and claimed the most exciting moment of his life was when he first accessed the internet.

 

At the tender age of 9, he was utilizing the app AOHell to manipulate legitimate AOL users into giving up their account information and would soon talk his way into a band of hackers who helped hone his nascent skills. When Calce was just 13, TnTForce, one of the world’s elite hacking gangs, asked him to join them.

 

During an eight day period in February 2000, 15-year-old Calce targeted the online behemoths CNN, Amazon.com, Fifa.com, E*Trade, eBay and the world’s biggest search-engine (at the time) Yahoo! He also launched unsuccessful attacks against nine of the internet’s thirteen root name servers.

 

At first Calce didn’t think he had done anything too bad. He quickly realized things were serious when he saw U.S. President Bill Clinton talking about his hack on TV. Calce might have gotten away with his hack, but like teenage boys throughout time, he just couldn’t keep from bragging. Online Calce claimed he was responsible for bringing down Dell.com — the disruption of which was a tidbit law enforcement authorities had never released. Oops.

 

Aftermath

 

Ironically the young doer of dastardly deeds was arrested while watching the gangster movie, Goodfellas. Calce pled guilty and received one year of probation, restricted Internet use, and a $250 fine; a lite sentence due to his age and a lack of Canadian computer security laws.

 

For a time, consumers lost confidence in online retailers as security experts acknowledged the weak levels of protection for commercial computer systems, in some cases claiming they are “essentially defenseless.” Fear of an “electronic Pearl Harbor” led to a massive increase in the development of online security practices and protocols.

 

Calce currently works as a cybersecurity expert. His story is immortalized in the short film Rivolta.

 

California Payroll Database Breach (2002)

 

On April 5, 2002, an as yet unidentified party hacked into the server that held the California State government's payroll database. Once inside they had wide open access to names, social security numbers and salary information for all 265,000 state workers, including the governor.