Five of the biggest hacks in recent memory

The rise of the internet has transformed hacking into an opportunity for crime, activism and political interference - we take a quick look at some of the biggest hacks ever.  

11th July 2017
Five of the biggest hacks in recent memory © GettyImages

This is an extract from Hackers: Can They Be Beaten? in issue 310 of BBC Focus magazine – subscribe here to make sure you get the full features delivered to your door before they hit the newsstands.

The 2016 US election was mired by claims of email leaks and government hacks, but this isn't the only hack to make headlines in recent years - here are five of the biggest-ever hacks.

Macron email leak

Emmanuel Macron poster © Getty Images
© Getty Images

Just 48 hours before the run-off poll between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, a 9GB cache of emails from Macron’s En Marche! party was posted on PasteBin, a filesharing platform. They were spread to WikiLeaks. “The attacks were so simple and generic that it could have been practically anyone,” France’s cybersecurity chief said.

Bangladesh bank heist

Bangladesh bank heist © Alamy
© Alamy

In February 2016, hackers got the login credentials used by Bangladesh Central Bank for the international banking transfer system SWIFT. They tried to transfer $951m to accounts in Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Most transactions were flagged, but $101m was removed. A Trojan known as Dridex was used, which hides in MS Word or Excel attachments. 

WannaCry attack


On 12 May 2017, a global ransomware attack affected more than 230,000 computers, including PCs in the NHS, FedEx and Deutsche Bahn. The malware was leaked from the NSA, and targeted machines running Windows XP and Windows 2003. The attack yielded just over $126,000 in payments and caused considerable upheaval. 

YAHOO! breach

YAHOO! © Alamy
© Alamy

In 2016, Yahoo! was forced to confirm that its systems had been breached twice, in 2013 and 2014, resulting in the loss of more than a billion users’ personal information, including passwords. The hackers used fake browser cookies that allowed them to dupe the site’s login systems. To date, it is the largest loss of customer data by any single company. 

Chipotle attack

Chipotle © Getty Images
© Getty Images

The Mexican restaurant chain, which has more than 2,250 outlets in the USA, reported that if you paid with a credit card between 24 March and 17 April 2017, your credit card details had almost certainly been obtained by hackers. The attack vector has not been confirmed, but the malware involved allegedly read the card data directly from the machines as they took payment.


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