The first known computer virus, Brain, in 1986, developed by brothers Amjad and Basit Farooq Alvi of Pakistan, originated as an anti-hacking tool. However, not all malware since then has had ethical motives. Some have become important parts of history due to the sophistication of their codes, which continue to impress scholars to this day.
So what are the most notorious malware attacks that have changed the way we use and know computers?
What are the common types of malware attacks?
Hackers use 11 common types of malware attacks for the purpose of data theft and other illegal activities. Here are the common types that you are most likely to encounter.
- Advertising software—Advertising-supported software that delivers unwanted and often malicious advertisements without user consent.
- Ransomware—Encryption-based malware that disables access to user data with a ransom note.
- Spyware—Secretly collects personal and sensitive information about a person or organization.
- Trojans—Malware is often disguised as a legitimate tool designed to access user data.
- Toward—Malicious computer worms typically spread copies of itself from computer to computer, often through victims’ email contacts.
- Keyloggers—A powerful tool to steal user information by logging keystrokes on victims’ computers.
- Rootkits—A secret computer program to give hackers remote access to a victim’s computer without being detected.
8 most notorious malware attacks of all time
Here are some of the worst malware attacks you need to know about. Because knowledge is your first line of defense.
1. Emotet, Trojan (2018): King of Malware
In 2021, law enforcement and judicial authorities disrupted what is billed as the world’s most dangerous malware, Emotet. It is a computer malware, detected for the first time in 2014 and which mainly targets banking and healthcare establishments.
Emotet rose to fame in 2018 after infecting Fürstenfeldbruck hospital in Germany, forcing them to shut down 450 computers. That same year, the US Department of Homeland and Security identified it as one of the most destructive malware.
It spreads through Outlook Harvest, where the Trojan reads the emails from the victim’s computer and sends phishing emails containing a Word document to the victim’s contacts, giving the impression that the content comes from a reliable source.
2. WannaCry, Ransomware (2017)
Even someone who hasn’t been directly affected or is not up to date on cybersecurity has noticed WannaCry. In May 2017, a ransomware attack took the cyber world by storm targeting computers running Microsoft Windows.
With around 0.2 million victims and over 0.3 million computers infected, it was particularly controversial for its spread. Hackers reportedly used EternalBlue, a National Investigation Agency (NSA) exploit for old Windows systems stolen in 2016 and disclosed by The Shadow Broker group to carry out the attack.
Once infected, WannaCry encrypts the files on the PC hard drive, denying access to all system data. In return, the victim is forced to pay a ransom via Bitcoin to decrypt their data. In a major attack, a new variant forced Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) to temporarily shut down its manufacturing facilities to control the spread in 2018.
3. Petya / NotPetya, Ransomware (2017)
In June 2017, the internet woke up to an enhanced ransomware attack that spread like wildfire, leaving affected systems unusable. Ransomware Petya (and its variant, NotPetya) uses the same EternalBlue exploit as WannaCry to remotely infect unsuspecting victims via an email phishing attack.
The malware first appeared in March 2016, but rose to prominence after targeting banking and other institutions, primarily in Ukraine and Russia, in 2017.
Petya is different from other ransomware variants as it targets Master Boot Record (MBR) in addition to system file encryption. Like all ransomware attacks, the user had to pay said amount in Bitcoin; however, the virus did not have a decryption code to restore data.
4. Stuxnet, Ver (2010)
In one of the most sophisticated and controversial cyber attacks of all time, Stuxnet, a malicious computer worm, is said to have targeted the Iranian nuclear facility. According to a NY Times report, this worm was developed through cooperation between the Israeli Secret Service and the US National Security Agency, although neither country has openly taken responsibility for it.
Stuxnet was originally designed to target Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) used to automate the electromechanical and machine process. It was also one of the first known cases of a computer program capable of breaking hardware.
Although Stuxnet was reportedly designed to expire in June 2012, since then other malware based on its code and characteristics has continued to wreak havoc in the industrial setup, suggesting that Frankenstein’s monster has spread to- beyond the control of the creator.
5. Zeus, Trojan Horse (2007)
Zeus, also known as Zbot, is a Trojan horse discovered in 2007 after the cyberattack on the US Department of Transportation. It uses the browser keystroke logging and form entry method to steal banking information.
A key ability of Zeus is to create a botnet made up of infected machines. In 2009, Zeus reportedly compromised more than 74,000 FTP accounts, including banking, government and private entities, such as Bank of America, NASA, Monster.com, ABC, Oracle, Cisco, and Amazon. It had also infected 3.6 million PCs in the United States this year alone.
Even though the threat has diminished since the alleged retirement of the original creator of Zeus, the virus still lives in many variations based on its source code.
6. Storm Worm, Trojan Horse (2007)
As severe storms hit Europe in January 2007, thousands of users received a malicious email disguised as a weather report containing updates. As unsuspected victims opened email attachments, Storm Worm, a Trojan horse malware, spread to no less than a million computers in Europe and America.
Strom Worm is a misnomer, as it had the characteristics of a Trojan horse and a worm. Combining several layers of attacks, once infected it would download a bunch of executable files on affected systems.
These files have been used to perform a variety of functions, including stealing sensitive user information, distributing spam emails to spread malware, and initiating Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
After investigation, the origin of Strom Worm was traced to Russia, and the Russian Business Network is often credited with the attack. The group allegedly used the sophisticated botnet as a rental product against anti-spam websites, among others.
7. Mydoom, Ver (2004)
Financially, Mydoom is known to be the worst and costliest virus outbreak in history, causing $ 38 billion in damage in 2004. After initial detection on January 26, 2004, it became the worm. fastest of all time, a record it holds even in 2021.
Mydoom targeted computers running Microsoft Windows, where infected systems created network openings, allowing it to be accessed remotely. The worm would scratch email addresses and spread the virus to the victim’s contacts.
The process would repeat itself for each infected system, eventually sending them into a botnet used to perform DDoS attacks.
8. SQL Slammer, Ver (2003)
By exploiting a buffer overflow vulnerability in Microsoft SQL Server 2000, the SQL Slammer worm caused DoS for many hosts, ultimately slowing down systems worldwide.
Considered the fastest-spreading computer malware in history, SQL Slammer, a 376-byte malicious code, relied on the buffer overflow bug to infect SQL servers and systems running an unpatched version of Microsoft SQL Server 2000.
Despite the scale of the attack, the damage was limited to the crash of SQL servers, crippling the Internet. This included the removal of Bank of America’s 13,000 ATMs and cell phone coverage outages affecting 27 million people. Because the code was not written to disk, infected systems were backed up and ready to go after a reboot.
Protect yourself from online threats
Malware attacks like Storm Worm and SQL Slammer have served as a double-edged sword. While they have shown the potential of cyber attacks, they have also led to improvements in online security.
Despite this, the basics of malware prevention have largely remained the same. Keep your computer and other devices up to date, use a non-administrative account if possible, don’t download pirated software or pirated content from shady sites, and use anti-virus software.
Getting malware on your computer is a huge security risk. Here’s what you can do to limit the damage if this happens.
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