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The 12 biggest hacks, breaches, and security threats of 2017

Security issues took a turn for the serious in 2017. This time around we still suffered the password breaches, malware annoyances, and stolen credit card numbers that have become commonplace in recent years. But the headlines were dominated by more sobering issues.

We saw foreign adversaries trying to infiltrate critical infrastructure; major U.S. government hacking tools exposed; a major breach that called into question the use of social security numbers as identification; the U.S. government turning negative towards online user privacy; and popular consumer software dragged into the world of corporate and state espionage. 

Whew. It was a big year for computer security, and some of 2017’s events will no doubt reach well into 2018 and beyond. Let’s take a look.

Shadow Brokers and Vault7 leaks


A CIA logo released by Wikileaks as part of Vault7.

Two of the defining computer security events of 2017 were leaks that exposed closely held hacking secrets of the U.S. government. Wikileaks got the ball rolling in March with the release of its so-called ”Vault7” leaks revealing what appeared to be a cache of computer vulnerabilities and operating methods used by the Central Intelligence Agency to infiltrate target devices.

Then in April the Shadow Brokers—an anonymous group of hackers that first came to notoriety in 2016—released a trove of attack tools linked to the National Security Agency.

Both releases would have significant impacts on computer device security.

Equifax Breach

“Jaw-dropping” does not begin to describe the Equifax breach, which came to light in September. Equifax is one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies in the United States. The hackers struck in the spring, seizing 143 million Social Security numbers—that’s more than half of the U.S. population. A failure to install current security patches on its network opened the door to the attack, the company said. Despite the devastating hack Equifax still won an anti-fraud contract from the Internal Revenue Service, though it was later suspended.

ISP tracking rules

US Capitol Bill Koplitz/FEMA

In late March, Congress decided to remove the privacy rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission in 2016. The rules had not yet come into effect when they were dumped, but they would have required opt-in permission from broadband customers before ISPs could use their personal information and browsing habits for marketing or analytics purposes.

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