5 Scary Cyberattacks — How Much Did They Cost and What Can You Learn?

Guy wearing pumpkin mask holding a laptop

Cyberattacks can be as scary as horror movies. They continue to evolve, wreaking havoc in organizations and keep IT professionals on their toes waiting for the next jump scare. 

This Halloween, we present five terrifying cyberattacks that cost organizations millions and the lessons we can learn from them.

5 Scary Cyberattacks the World Witnessed in the Past Three Years 

1. Equifax Data Breach in May 2017 

The Equifax breach that occurred in May 2017 exposed the personal information of 147 million people, which includes the personal data of 56 percent of American adults.

The consumer credit reporting agency has been criticized for using weak credentials, such as the default “admin” as a username and password. This massive breach could have been avoided with a simple update.  

Equifax has agreed to pay up to $700 million as a global settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and 50 U.S. states and territories. This includes $425 million in relief for those affected by the data breach. 

Lessons to learn:

  • Use strong passwords, or better, stronger authentication methods like the two-factor authentication (2FA).  
  • Update your systems on time, preferably within 30 days of patch release. 

 2. WannaCry Ransomware Attack in May 2017 

Fridays are always the scariest of days. If you are struck with network/server downtime on a Friday, you’d have to forego your weekend activities and devote time to fix your infrastructure.

One such Friday turned out deadly for several organizations worldwide, when a ransomware worm dubbed WannaCry infected 300,000 computers across 150 countries. On May 12, 2017, hackers encrypted hundreds of thousands of computers globally and demanded users to pay a US$300 ransom in bitcoins.

The attack not only affected the citizens but also crippled the healthcare industry, especially the National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in the UK, which were using obsolete versions of Windows, for which Microsoft had stopped providing security updates. The breach had cost the NHS alone, around $100 million in total. 

Lesson to learn:

3. Marriott’s Mega Breach in September 2018 

Many details remain undisclosed about Marriott’s guest reservation data breach. But, one fact that was made public was that 500 million guest records were breached from Mariott’s database. This included credit card and passport data. The stolen information can have disastrous implications for the victims. Criminals can duplicate passport data, impersonate citizens, and use sensitive credit card information for personal gain. 

Marriott is now facing $123 million fine for violating the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires organizations to protect the personal data and privacy of European Union (EU) citizens for transactions that occur within EU member states. 

Lessons to learn:

  • Be secure to be compliant and avoid massive fines and penalties. 
  • Automate compliance processes including compliance documentation, risk assessments and alerts. 

 4. Atlanta City Hit by Ransomware in March 2018 

In March 2018, the SamSam ransomware attack hit the city of Atlanta, Georgia, which crippled its critical municipal systems, including utility, parking and court services.

SamSam actors were known to have targeted organizations in a wide range of sectors, mostly in the U.S, using brute-force attacks to guess weak passwords until a match is found.  

Hackers encrypted the city’s data and demanded a payment of $50,000 in bitcoins for decryption keys. Upon investigation, the city’s IT systems were revealed to be running on legacy applications, outdated software, and riddled with vulnerabilities. 

Recovery costs of $2.9 million has been spent by the city till now, and an additional $9.5 million is required to recover from the incident. 

Lessons to learn:

  • Backup your systems regularly and verify the integrity of the backups with recovery testing to reduce downtime. 
  • Let go of legacy infrastructure, update software regularly and patch on time. 

5. Capital One Data Breach in July 2019 

This data breach, touted as one of the biggest in recent times, exposed 100 million Capital One customers’ accounts and credit card applications. The bank has also confirmed that the breached data included about 140,000 Social Security numbers of its credit card customers and about 80,000 linked bank account numbers of the other secured credit card customers. 

The massive breach was made possible by the hacker gaining unauthorized access to the customers’ accounts through misconfigured web application firewalls and misconfigured servers. 

While the alleged perpetrator has been arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Capital One says it expects the breach to cost nearly $100 million to $150 million in U.S fines. 

Lessons to learn:

  • Firewalls are usually set up with an open policy of allowing traffic from any source to any destination. Tighten your firewall configuration policies and restrict and monitor privileged access to networks and servers. 
  • Reduce remote access security risks by deploying a secure authentication process like two-factor authentication (2FA). 

Security breaches are a constant threat to an organization. They not only end up costing millions but also result in reputational damage and trust deficit in customers.

To learn more, download our infographic Spooky Cybersecurity Statistics to Help You Prepare for the Worst. 

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