We’re used to thinking of cyber attacks as something that could happen to someone else, but not to us. Or malicious attacks won’t do a lot of harm to us — perhaps, we’ll need to reinstall our operating system to get rid of some stubborn ransomware or, in the worst-case scenario, block our credit card for a day or two. But in reality, we’re much more vulnerable than we might think. And hackers can do way more than most of us imagine.
Within the past years, our lives increasingly moved to the virtual world. Today, almost every bit of information is stored in online databases. Such an approach makes it easier for us to navigate those huge masses of data and work with it productively. But on the other hand, the fact that information is easily accessible means it’s also vulnerable to malicious activity. And if some group of hackers gains access to a particularly important database, the damage will be way more serious than if they got, let’s say, a password to your Facebook account.
Cyberterrorism is not something we can see in movies. It’s a malicious activity that takes place in our not-so-cinematic world. Such attacks are not aimed at individuals or organizations with the goal of getting some profit. Deaths, massive disruptions, and global danger usually become the results of actions cyberterrorists take.
These examples of such cyber attacks will show you the real harm they can cause. The listed incidents show how important it is to take care of personal cybersecurity and to protect the digital assets of organizations.
1. Malefactors destroyed a steel plant in Germany in 2014
This day on a steel plant felt like any other. Until workers started realizing that it’s getting increasingly hot at the facilities. High temperatures were caused by hackers who have managed to take over the furnace controls of this plant. And it was impossible to cut the access for malefactors.
Hackers could get access to controls by sending fake emails and consequently receiving the details they needed to get into the system. None of the workers suffered or died from this attack. Yet, the plant has suffered significant damage that then costed it a lot of money to recover from.
There is no information on the location and the exact date, but the German Federal Office for Information Security has confirmed that the attack did take place.
2. A virus that almost made planes fall down in 2015
Due to a human error, in 2015 hackers managed to put a virus into the Federal Aviation Administration’s network. It was planted through a phishing email one of the workers opened. The email contained a virus that shut down all the radars and sent pilots false information. As a result, aircrafts got confused. And even though they, fortunately, could manage the situation, the attack could lead to numerous deaths.
While computers help to manage air traffic and avoid catastrophes, they also are one of the biggest vulnerabilities in the system because of their interconnection with each other and other systems. One Achilles’ heel could make the whole network crumble leading to pilots losing control over aircrafts. And then we can only hope for the best.
3. Hackers turned off the electricity for 23000 people in 2015
It happened in Western Ukraine — hackers got into the system that controls the power grid and turned it off. Experts say that malefactors were well-prepared for this attack as they most likely needed to disrupt power flows over the region before shutting the whole network. Then it was the matter of a single phishing email one of the employees opened thus giving hackers access to the system.
When the incident has happened, analysts were suspecting that it could be a rehearsal for a much bigger attack, and they were right. In 2017, malefactors did the same thing to a large electricity grid in the US.
4. Hackers got access to the US's nuclear weapons in 2020
Okay, this is quite serious. Such an attack is capable of threatening nations and escalating existing tensions. Malefactors have managed to get into six federal agencies, and the National Nuclear Security Administration was one of them. This organization, as you could tell by the name, manages nuclear weapons the States own.
The spokesperson has confirmed the attack, however without elaborating any details. Still, despite that we don’t know more about this situation, it’s terrifying to realize that hackers can break into the central part of the national security enterprise of the United States. Specialists suspect that malefactors stole atomic weapons research because laboratories that are responsible for this study were hacked as well. The investigation is still in process, and we don’t know about all the damage the attack has resulted in.
Another organization that suffered was the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. There are two reasons why experts are especially worried about the FERC getting hacked: malefactors wanted to either do something with the massive electric grid or get some sensitive data about it. It means that they could obtain information that will help them plan future attacks way better.
Hackers found their way to organizations through SolarWinds which is a software development company. It sells IT products to government agencies.
5. A person in a hospital died from an attack in 2020
Hospitals just like most organizations around the globe digitize their processes. It brings more comfort to the workflow, but it also makes hospitals vulnerable to hackers now. In 2020, a ransomware attack made servers of a hospital in Dusseldorf freeze. Malefactors demanded a ransom in exchange for removing the virus.
The attack has forced the staff to move patients to the facilities that weren’t impacted by ransomware. During this emergency move, one woman has died before she could get treated. Fortunately (if we can say so), hackers softened and provided the police with the decryption key before anyone else died.
These attacks show that hackers can do way more than stealing some money from us. Yet, in most cases, we can prevent the worst from happening. As you could notice, most of these attacks happened due to a human mistake — an employee has opened a phishing email. It indicates that we still need to educate ourselves on cybersecurity and watch out for malicious activity.
Remember to check the sender of an email before opening it, let alone clicking any links it contains. Also, avoid suspicious websites and always hover your cursor over a link you’re about to click to see a real link in the left bottom corner of your browser.
Finally, use an antivirus program and a VPN app to stay safe from viruses and prying eyes. An antivirus will protect you from malware while the iNinja VPN app for iOS, Windows, and portable devices will cover your IP address making you anonymous.