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Information leaks throughout history

12 Security Breaches that Shaped History

By DeVry University

From Target Corp.’s data system hack to Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, information security breaches seem to be commonplace in today’s technology-centric world. In 2013 alone, there were an estimated 130 million software programs in existence designed to steal personal information online.[1]

Today, the Internet may be facing its largest data hacking bug to-date, Heartbleed.[2] The vulnerability in OpenSSL, the Internet’s most basic and free cryptographic library used by thousands of websites, means encrypted data dating back to 2012 may be susceptible to hackers.[3] Learn how to protect your personal information with cyber security tips

While the reach of information security breaches may be greater today thanks to the amount of information stored online, information leaks are nothing new. We assembled a list of some of history’s most memorable information leaks to understand their criminal past:

Who: Guy Fawkes
When: November 5, 1605
What happened:
It was an anonymous letter that spelled out an English Catholic group’s scheme to assassinate King James I of England using 36 barrels of gunpowder. After Guy Fawkes was found guarding the barrels under the House of Lords, a national holiday was born (Guy Fawkes Day, Bonfire Night or Firework Night) in England, which, to this day, commemorates the failure of the plot.

Learn more: Traditionally, in the days leading up to Guy Fawkes Day, children roam the streets asking passersby for a “penny for the guy.” The funds raised are then used for the fireworks displays families enjoy on the holiday evening. Author T.S. Eliot memorialized this tradition in his 1927 poem, “The Hollow Men.”

Photo Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images


Who: Benedict Arnold
When: April–September 1780
What happened:
Long regarded one of the most notorious spies in American history, Benedict Arnold attempted to sell secrets to the British regarding American troop movements and gain access to the fort at West Point—a plan that surfaced with the arrest of Major John Andre, the British general’s spy chief, after a secret meeting with Arnold. Andre had been given the plans for West Point, and Arnold was forced to flee before General George Washington’s forces captured him.

Learn more: Before turning traitor, Benedict Arnold was an ardent patriot and was known as “America’s Hannibal” for his success in leading over 1,000 troops through the harsh Maine wilderness in a campaign against Quebec at General Washington’s request.

Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images



Who: Polish Cipher Bureau
When: December 1932

What happened: The Polish government’s cryptography agency decoded the cipher for Germany’s early Enigma machines—mechanical encryption devices widely used by the German military in the run-up to World War II. The intelligence gleaned through the decryption techniques (code-named “Ultra” by British code-breakers) is believed to have hastened the end of the war by nearly two years, and was credited by Winston Churchill as one of the key elements in winning the war.

Learn more: IIn Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel From Russia, with Love—the fifth installment of his James Bond series—the “Spektor Code Machine” intercepts and decrypts Russian communications for James Bond’s MI6 allies. The machine was based on the ciphers for the Enigma machines used during World War II.

Photo Credit: Rich Lewis/Getty Images


Who: Mark Felt, also known as “Deep Throat”
When: 1972–1973
What happened:
Following one of the best-known information leaks in history, former U.S. President Richard Nixon was forced out of office because of his involvement in the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. The FBI connected cash found on the burglars to a reserve fund used by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, a fundraising group for the Nixon campaign.

Details regarding the scandal—and the Nixon administration’s attempts to cover it up—eventually saw the light of day due to anonymous sources leaking information to the media, including one official nicknamed “Deep Throat” who was only recently identified as former FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt. Chief among the evidence against Nixon and his administration was a series of tape recordings from the Office of the President that he was forced to hand over. Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.

Learn more: The famous Watergate Complex where the burglary occurred has undergone a number of renovations over the years. The Watergate Hotel has been closed since 2007, undergoing an $85 million renovation developers hope to see finished this spring.[4] And, in 2012, developers of the Watergate Office Building announced plans for a facelift that will “restore Watergate to its glory days.”

Photo Credit: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images


Who: Mehdi Hashemi
When: November 1986
What happened: 
This international political scandal was initially exposed by Iranian Shia cleric Mehdi Hashemi, who leaked information about the Iranian government’s involvement in a weapons-for-hostages deal with the U.S. The arrangement between the two governments—which was prohibited by both U.S. and Iranian law—was revealed in November 1986, and infamously resulted in National Security Council staff member Oliver North shredding piles of documents that implicated himself, his staff and possibly President Ronald Reagan.

Learn more: In 1987, Mehdi Hashemi was executed in Iran, allegedly for activities unrelated to the scandal. Some find the coincidence of Hashemi’s leak and the subsequent prosecution highly suspicious, since he made a videotaped confession admitting to numerous charges.

Photo Credit: Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images


Who: Gilberto Sanchez
When: March 31, 2009
What happened: 

Hugh Jackman fans received an unexpected treat when an unfinished version of the movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine found its way online before its official release. The studio estimated the film was downloaded more than 4.5 million times before it hit theaters, and the leak continues to be held up as one of the most prominent—and allegedly damaging—examples of media piracy in recent years.[5]

Learn more: The film opened at the top of the box office, and grossed more than $179 million in the U.S. and Canada and more than $373 million worldwide.[6]

Photo Credit: Robin Cracknell/Getty Images


Who: WikiLeaks
When: October 2006 - ongoing
What happened:
Launched in 2006, this whistle-blowing site repeatedly finds itself in the spotlight. In 2010, a series of leaked government documents and classified video from the Iraq War showed journalists being fired upon by military forces, among other incriminating files. The Pentagon later referred to the leak of the “Iraq War Logs” as “the largest leak of classified documents in its history.” [7]

Later, in 2012, more than 2.4 million private emails to and from political figures in Syria found their way online thanks to the site, marking one of its largest collections of leaked documents so far. The emails, which were sent between August 2006 and March 2012, include messages from within the Syrian ministries of Presidential Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Information and Transport.[8]

Learn more: WikiLeaks has more than 2 million followers and fans on Twitter and Facebook.

Photo Credit: Nathan Alliard/Getty Images


When: 2010–ongoing
What happened:
An aggressive computer virus created to hinder the development of Iran’s nuclear power program, Stuxnet spreads via Microsoft Windows and targets Siemens industrial software and equipment. Reports have pegged the destructive program as the product of a joint U.S.-Israeli intelligence operation, and the virus’s release has been described as one of the most significant large-scale breaches in recent history due to its effect on real-world systems.[9]

Learn more: In May 2012, Russian antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab discovered that the new malware Flame has a strong relationship to Stuxnet after analyzing its code. [10]

Photo Credit: Epoxydude/Getty Images


Unknown hackers
When: April 2011
What happened:
Gamers everywhere were disappointed when more than 77 million of Sony’s PlayStation Network accounts were hacked in this attack that has been widely regarded as one of the worst breaches of all time in gaming network security.[11] The network was down for more than a month, and the breach resulted in the leak of more than 12 million credit card numbers as well as millions of email addresses, passwords, home addresses and other data stored in the Sony PlayStation Network database.[12]

Learn more: PlayStation Mobile is a new software framework that will be used to provide downloadable PlayStation content for devices that currently run Android 2.3 and meet specific unannounced hardware requirements. The Open Beta version of the software was released in April 2012.

Photo Credit: Terex/Veer


Who: Unknown hackers
When: February–July 2012
What happened:
One of the most wired countries in the world fell prey to a massive theft of digital data when two men allegedly stole user information from more than 8 million KT mobile phone subscribers in South Korea.[13] The hackers sold the data to various marketing companies, which reportedly used the information to solicit subscribers and convince them to switch service providers.

Learn more: In August 2012, South Korea’s network carriers became the world’s first VoLTE providers when they announced plans to offer Voice over LTE (Long Term Evolution) services. Call quality is about 40% improved over that offered on a 3G network; this is achieved by using a wider bandwidth to pick up lower and higher sound frequencies.[14]

Photo Credit: RunPhoto/Getty Images


Edward Snowden
May 2013-ongoing
What happened:
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden sparked controversy after releasing confidential information about PRISM, the secret government surveillance program to The Washington Post and The Guardian.[15] Snowden, who is estimated to have stolen about 1.7 million top-secret documents and threatened to continue to release them to the public, may potentially cost the U.S. billions of dollars.[16]

Learn more: While Snowden is facing espionage charges from the U.S. government, he is currently protected under asylum in Russia. Reviews of Snowden’s actions are still mixed, as 53% of Americans think the public has a right to know about surveillance programs.[17]


December 2013
What happened:
Target Corp. reported the unauthorized access to its payment card data at many U.S. retail locations. An estimated 40 million credit and debit card numbers were stolen by hackers with an additional 70 million people affected as personal information such as names, addresses and email addresses were taken.[18] ,[19],[20]
Learn more: There are at least 100 lawsuits pending as a result of the data breach and the retailer estimates $60 million in retribution costs.[21]

As history has clearly demonstrated, there is a need for skilled professionals to maintain the safety of sensitive information and to counteract security breaches. And in today’s world, that need is greater than ever. Cyber security jobs are growing at one of the fastest rates in the country.[22]  Perhaps the positive job outlook will help change the course of history in the years to come.

Become a cyber-crusader. If preventing online information security breaches is a career path that interests you, contact DeVry University to learn about degree programs that can help you get there.


[15] source:
[18] source: