Even as technology makes our lives easier, it does not come without its own set of vulnerabilities. Some of these loopholes have the potential to throw most robust systems out of gear. In the year so far, we witnessed the spread of the severe malware called WannaCry, which affected many devices across 150 countries with the number mounting in lakhs in India alone. Even before the impact of WannaCry could be measured to its fullest, a new malware called ‘Judy’ was discovered stemming from the Google Play Store. While security researchers are still scaling the impact of the new malware, the history of technology is stained with numerous such attacks which went to the extent of threatening national security. Here’s a look at the five worst malware attacks ever.
Michelangelo Virus (1992)
Famous for creating first widespread panic surrounding computer malware, Michelangelo virus was discovered, surprisingly, in the pre-internet era. Named after the famous Renaissance painter, it is classified as a boot sector virus – a virus that infects startup sectors of storage devices such as those of a floppy disk or master boot record.
Once Michelangelo virus infected a computer, it remained dormant until a specific date (March 6 –birth date of both the virus and the famous painter) of each year. Once the date arrived, the virus would cause critical data on the infected computers’ boot disk overwritten, thereby damaging it and rending it unusable. ALSO READ: ‘Judy’ malware hits 36.5 million Android smartphones: Check Point
John McAfee estimated the malware infected as many as 5 million computers. However, the real number mounted only a few thousand computers. While the author of the Michelangelo virus was never discovered, the virus is believed to still activate every March 6 for older, previously infected computers.
ILOVEYOU worm (2000)
Discovered in 2000, the ILOVEYOU worm was labeled as the most damaging malware event of all time. Picture this, you receive an email with a subject line that read – I LOVE YOU, what are the chances you won’t open it? The worm of the 2000s precisely took advantage of this very flaw in human nature and charged the malware through the email attachment called ‘LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs’.
Upon clicking, the worm overrode systems and spread itself over and over again, thereby damaging critical data. As Norton reveals, ILOVEYOU worm was so wide-spread that it earned a position in the Guinness World Record as the most ‘virulent’ virus of all time.
While damage costs of the malware were estimated to be around $15 billion, the two young Filipino programmers, Reonel Ramones and Onel de Guzman, behind developing the malware got off scot free as there were no laws against writing malware back then. ALSO READ: WannaCry Ransomware attack tracker shows real-time map of affected devices worldwide
Anna Kournikova (2001)
Named after the tennis star Anna Kournikova, the email-based malware was in fact written as a ‘joke’ by 20-year-old De Wit. The subject line for the virus-laden email was “Here you have, ;0)” with an attached file called AnnaKournikova.jpg.vbs.
Written in Visual Basic Script, the virus had the characteristic of emailing itself to everyone in an Outlook users’ address book. Although Norton claims the virus was pretty harmless, its author turned himself into police anyway. The cost of the malware is estimated to be around $166,000.
The reason behind spreading of the virus “twice as fast as the Love Bug,” was owing to Kournikova’s immense popularity in that era, leading to people looking up the name over the internet.
In what could be labeled as the biggest ironies, the Stuxnet virus was written by government engineers in the US in order to obstruct Iran’s nuclear facilities. The virus spread by a USB thumb drive and targeted Iran’s nuclear facility that held uranium.
Stuxnet exploited zero-day vulnerabilities in the control systems of the facilities and led the centrifuges to self-destruct, thereby causing the Iranian government a lot of money. While the cost of the malware is yet to be estimated, Stuxnet came to be known as the one of the first instances of governments engaging in cyber warfare. ALSO READ: WannaCry ransomware: CERT-In explains measures to prevent infection, how to tackle the aftermath
Another famous malware attack from the history, CryptoLocker made the way into users’ system in the form of email attachment. Estimated to have claimed 500,000 victims, the virus encrypted users’ files and to decrypt, the hackers demanded a ransom ranging from a few hundred pounds and going up to a few grand. If users refused to pay the ransom, the critical data would be lost to hackers.
The author of the malware, Evgeniy Bogachev, was arrested and the FBI offered $3 million reward for the leader. The malware made an estimated $30 million in 100 days.