10 Of The Biggest Hacks Of All Time

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While hacking was often portrayed as a highly specialized type of work that required hugely sophisticated equipment in movies and television shows, the truth is that most hacks are often deceptively simple. What the entertainment industry did get right though is that such hacks are able to cause widespread damage to millions of people, just not in the same way that they typically showed that involved explosions and the shutting down of important computer systems. More likely in large-scale attacks are a big loss of private data such as credit card details for customers and users of a particular service.

Jonathan James

Jonathan James gained notoriety in 1999 when he became the first person to hack into NASA’s computer system and gain access to information such as the code for the life support system on the International Space Station. What made the hack even more remarkable was the fact that James was just 15-year-old, raising questions about the security employed by government agencies.


The Adobe hack that took place in 2013 was one of the biggest of all time in terms of data stolen, though most of it was not sensitive. Account information of around 150 million people was accessed, including usernames and passwords as well as 2.9 million credit card details. The hack was so big that Abode offered credit monitoring to all of those who had been affected.

Bitcoin Theft

2014 saw the site Mt. Gox suffer a huge theft of bitcoins. The hackers had been able to access the accounts of more than 400 users after stealing the passwords from the site’s internal database. The total value of the stolen bitcoins was an estimated $470 million and this eventually led to the site going out of business and the value of the virtual currency dropping significantly.

Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency, without a central bank or single administrator, that can be sent from user to user on the peer-to-peer bitcoin network without the need for intermediaries. Transactions are verified by network nodes through cryptography and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain. Bitcoin is unique in that there are a finite number of them: 21 million.

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US Government Employee Leak

Suspected Chinese government security agents were responsible for an attack on the United States Office of Personnel Management, which is responsible for storing the personal details of government employees. The hack saw 22 million individuals have their data stolen, including social security numbers.

Estonia DDoS Attacks

In 2007, the Baltic country of Estonia came under one of the biggest and most effective denial of service attacks of all time. Police believe that people associated with Russia were behind the attack that saw official government sites and news outlets forced offline for up to three weeks, while a subsequent attack led to the entire banking system being crippled, stopping anyone from carrying out transactions.


In February of 2015, hackers breached the security systems of medical insurance company Anthem and managed to access details of more than 80 million customers. Subsequent investigations seemed to indicate that those behind the attack may have been working on behalf of the Chinese government. Some of the stolen data included social security numbers, personal information and employment details.


Stuxnet was a piece of self-replicating computer software that operated in the same was as a virus. It was introduced during a hacking attack on several suppliers to Iran’s nuclear program, leading to thousands of centrifuges shutting down and severely hampering the country’s ability to enrich uranium. Analysts believe the worm was a joint operation between the United States and Israel.

Gary McKinnon

Unlike many other hackers who attack computer systems simply as a way of causing mischief or because they want to protest, Gary McKinnon had different motives. His breach of computers belonging to the United States military and NASA was described as the “biggest military computer hack of all time” as his theft and deletion of critical files caused more than 2,000 systems to shut down and become unusable for an extended period of time. McKinnon claimed that his motivation behind the hack was to get evidence of UFOs and anti-gravity technology.

U.S. Weapon Systems

The United States and China have long been involved in a series of cyber-attacks on each other than have led to sensitive information being stolen and commercial websites being brought down. However, the most serious of these was a hack in 2014 that breached the military databases of the US, allowing Chinese hackers to steal designs for more than 20 separate critical weapon systems.

PlayStation Network Hack

Arguably the biggest hack of all time thanks to the sheer amount of information that was stolen. A group calling itself LulzSec managed to force the network to shut down for more than a month, during which time they had managed to gain access to account information, including addresses, email addresses, passwords, usernames, and security answers, of some 77 million users. Even more worrying was the fact 12,000 credit cards details were also stolen.