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A BRief history of Cybercrime

These pages list the major events in the use of computers and computer networks to comit criminal acts, starting in the 1970's to the present day. This list was put together as part of our course Introduction to Computer Crime Studies (FSCT7220) presented at BCIT. The list is not meant to be comprehensive, but it is meant to be representative. If you notice any errors or serious omissions, please contact us.  

Section 1 - 1970-1990

  • John Draper discovers the give-away whistle in Cap'n Crunch cereal boxes reproduces a 2600Hz tone. Draper builds a ‘blue box’ that, when used with the whistle and sounded into a phone receiver, allows phreaks to make free calls. Esquire publishes "Secrets of the Little Blue Box" with instructions for making one. Wire fraud in the US escalates.
  • A rogue program called the Creeper spreads through early Bulletin Board networks
  • The InterNetworking Working Group is founded to govern the standards of the Internet. Vinton Cerf is the chairman and is known as a "Father of the Internet”.
  • Teller at New York's Dime Savings Bank uses a computer to embezzle over $2 million
  • First electronic bulletin board system (BBS) appears; becomes the primary  means of communication for the electronic underground..
  • Ian Murphy, aka. "Captain Zap“, becomes first felon convicted of a computer crime. Murphy broke into AT&T’s computers and changed the billing clock so that  people receive discounted rates during normal business hours.
  • Elk Cloner, an AppleII boot virus, is written.
  • Movie WarGames introduces public to the phenomenon of hacking (actually war-dialing).
  • US Secret Service gets jurisdiction over credit card and computer fraud.
  • Phiber Optik forms Masters of Deception hacking group.
  • US Comprehensive Crime Control Act gives Secret Service jurisdiction over computer fraud.
  • Hacker magazine 2600 begins publication (still in print; see Captain Crunch for the derivation of the name).
  • Online hacking magazine Phrack established.
  • Pakistani Brain, the oldest virus created under unauthorized circumstances, infects IBM computers.
  • After many break-ins into govt. and corporate computers, Congress passes the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, making this a crime. The law does not cover juveniles.
  • Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) created.
  • Kevin Mitnick secretly monitors the e-mail of MCI and DEC security officials. He is convicted and sentenced to a year in jail.
  • Kevin Poulsen is indicted on phone-tampering charges. He goes on the run and avoids capture for 17 months.
  • First National Bank of Chicago is the victim of $70-million computer theft.
  • Robert T. Morris, Jr., graduate student at Cornell University and son of a chief scientist at the NSA, launches a self-replicating worm (the Morris Worm) on the government's ARPAnet (precursor to the Internet). The worm gets out of hand and spreads to over 6000 networked computers, clogging government and university systems. Morris is dismissed from Cornell, sentenced to three years' probation, and fined $10K. 
  • First large-scale computer extortion case is investigated - under the pretence of a quiz on the AIDS virus, users unwittingly download a program which threatens to destroy all their computer data unless they pay $500 into a foreign account.
  • Hackers in West Germany (loosely affiliated with the Chaos Computer Club) are arrested for breaking into US government and corporate computers and selling operating-system source code to the KGB.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is formed.
  • Legion of Doom and Masters of Deception engaged in  online warfare - jamming phone lines, monitoring calls, trespassing in each other's private computers.
  • After a prolonged sting investigation, Secret Service agents swoop down on organizers and members of BBS’s in 14 US cities, including the Legion of Doom. The arrests are aimed at cracking down on credit-card theft and telephone and wire fraud. 

Continues in Section 2 - 1991-2000...

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