A potted history of cyber inspired by the Sandworm of Dune

Published by Neil
On 18-Jun-20
Cyberhistory worm

Immerse yourself and learn about the history of cyber hacking on a worm example, inspired by the Sandworm of Dune.


Although the word ‘cyber’ has only really been absorbed into our lexicon in the last decade, its history can be traced back to the early days of computers and electronic communications.

  1. In 1965 Frank Herbert published the “Dune” novels which have subsequently gained a large following among hackers – blackhats and whitehats. Since then the idea of a worm, like the Sandworm on the planet Arrakis, burrowing its way through cyberspace is a common way of visualising malware activity.
  2. The first significant “hack” was documented in 1986 by Clifford Stoll in his famous account of how he tracked a group of German computer hackers who broke into Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US.
  3. The term, Cyberwar, was probably first used, outside of military circles, in 1987 when it was described in terms of giant robots & autonomous weapon systems, replacing and augmenting human soldiers. But no mention of the internet at this stage.
  4. 10 years later, the advent of cyber espionage was announced by the “Moonlight Maze” pillage of US government & military networks.
  5. In 2007, a Distributed Denial of Service (or DDoS) toolkit called “BlackEnergy” was offered for sale on hacker forums by a Russian hacker, giving two new terms to the world: “script kiddies” (as it was very easy to use) and “botnet”.
  6. Also, in 2007, the first major DDoS attack against a state was achieved, bringing the internet “early adopter” Estonia to its knees.
  7. A significant landmark was passed in 2010 when the Stuxnet malware attacked the physical world in the form of Iranian nuclear facilities.
  8. A facility to grab passwords from computer memory called Mimikatz was introduced in 2011 for general use by a French programmer, allegedly trying to prove that a Windows flaw was not being addressed by Microsoft. 
  9. Elections were targeted for the first time in 2014 by the “Fancy Bear” hacking group when the Ukraine presidential elections were interfered with.
  10. Another first was in 2015 when major power “blackouts” were engineered affecting again the Ukraine.
  11. Increasingly it is believed that US presidential elections were also meddled with in 2016, causing controversy over the result in the incredibly close fought battle.
  12. Events accelerated in 2017 when a history-making discovery was made of a malware that could disrupt civilian industrial control systems. It was appropriately codenamed “Industroyer”.
  13. Thanks to a leak from the US NSA, the EternalBlue tool entered infamy as it exploited a hole (or “zero day vulnerability”) in almost all versions of Windows prior to version 8.
  14. 2017 also brought “ransomware”, “kill switch” and “sink-holing” terms into wide use by cyber specialists. The WannaCry malware, distributed by the NSA EternalBlue malware, ambushed the UK’s National Health Service, among other victims globally.
  15. NotPetya, the most devastating cyberweapon to date, was unleased upon the Ukraine and the wider world in that year also. This malware was built using both EternalBlue and Mimikatz – and had no kill-switch.
  16. The French were the next victim of election cyber-meddling in 2017. Phishing emails and a server in the widely used Tor network were used to expose the campaign emails of the newly elected president.
  17. The Winter Olympics taking place in South Korea were spared huge disruption in 2018 by the amazing efforts of IT staff when a huge DDoS attack was launched during the opening ceremony.
  18. And the story continues…..

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