The past year was a record-setter for hacking scandals, and the headlines show no signs of slowing as 2017 kicks off. In previous years, most network intrusions targeted enterprises and large corporations. But in 2016, we saw a much more diverse field of victims, ranging from celebrities, technology CEOs, political parties, even Netflix and the Olympics.
On Dec. 21, the Netflix Twitter account was hit by hacking collective OurMine, "a self-described white hat security group." The hackers tweeted a message saying they were "just testing" Netflix security, and suggested Netflix contact them to find out more. OurMine tweeted its message, along with an email address and logo, to the nearly 2.5 million Twitter followers of @netflix, which is Netflix's U.S. account.
2016 was also a year that saw digital security become an issue of national security and election year politics.
More Political Hacks
Perhaps one of the most disturbing trends in 2016 was the increased use of hacking to achieve geopolitical goals. Hacking groups linked to either the Kremlin or Russian president Vladimir Putin have been accused of reverting to Cold War tactics to weaken and delegitimize countries seen as political rivals.
A hack of the World Anti-Doping Agency's database, resulting in the publication of private medical records for several U.S. athletes, was attributed to a group of Russian hackers going by the names "Team Tsar" and "Fancy Bear." The group was also accused of hacking the Democratic Party’s network to find embarrassing information about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The attack against the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign was rumored to have been part of an orchestrated effort by Russia to use cyberwarfare to undermine the U.S. electoral process. While it's impossible to say what, if any, effect the hack had on the election of Donald Trump, it has escalated tensions between the two countries and caused alarm within the U.S. intelligence community.
And it isn't just national security that was in the spotlight in 2016. The year also saw a big jump in ransomware attacks, with individuals being targeted by hackers who encrypt their data in order to extort cash. Perhaps the largest such attack in 2016 was against the San Francisco transit system, which was targeted by a ransomware attack that resulted in travelers receiving free rides over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Individuals in the Crosshairs
Several high-profile individuals in the technology sector have also been targets of attacks this year, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. And Twitter's former CEO Dick Costolo and current CEO Jack Dorsey also suffered from hacks.
Most of these attacks seem to have come from well-known hacking collectives such as OurMine. But an independent hacker going by the handle "Lid" was able to hijack the Twitter account of Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe.
Hacks weren't just about digital defacement and a chance to embarrass political opponents, though. This year also saw the second largest bitcoin hack in history, resulting in the theft of more than $65 million of the cryptocurrency.
But it wasn't just digital currency that was stolen this year. A gang of Russian hackers also managed to break into more than 330,000 point-of-sale machines running software by Micros, an Oracle company. The hack hit cash registers used in food chains, hotels and retail stores.
And speaking of hotels, the U.S. hospitality industry suffered one of its largest hacks ever when 20 hotels owned by HEI Hotels and Resorts discovered malware running on point-of-sale machines used throughout the country. That hack may have resulted in the theft of customer data including account and credit card numbers.
This year there was even information about past traditional hacks involving the theft of users' email addresses and login information. Yahoo reported that in 2013, it suffered the largest breach in history, involving more than 1 billion user accounts. That exceeds the hack of 500 million accounts in 2014 that the company also reported this year.