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The Ten Costliest Cyber Crimes of All Time


Call it revenge of the geeks.

This has been a tough week for cyber criminals. British hacker Gary McKinnon -- accused of pulling off the biggest military computer hack of all time, to the tune of $800,000 -- lost an appeal to avoid extradition to the United States. He'll therefore be tried Stateside, where we don't take kindly to this sort of thing.

The business of computer hacking is certainly booming, with hack-related losses totaling a staggering trillion dollars per year worldwide. In February 2009, Ponemon Institute conducted a survey to determine the average loss a business incurs when it suffers a security breach. Reviewing cases from 43 organizations, the group finalized a figure: $6.6 million.

While that might seem like small potatoes for megacorporations like Wal-Mart (WMT) or Best Buy (BBY) -- which experienced data leaks in 2006 and 2007, respectively -- the cost of clients' files being released into the hands of a nefarious hacker could ruin a smaller company.

Cyber crime has come a long way since Matthew Broderick changed the number of days he was absent from school -- not to mention nearly annihilating mankind with an innocent game of thermonuclear war. Reports of breached security and computer virus outbreaks occur almost weekly -- even with organizations boasting the highest levels of protection.

In June 2007, the Pentagon announced a breach of the network's infrastructure which resulted in the loss of an "amazing amount" of data, according to Dennis Clem -- the Office of the Secretary of Defense's chief information officer. Although no one specified what or how much was lost, the sensitive information could have compromised national security.

No matter how protected and monitored, no security system is immune.

The cost of the system break-in and restructuring passwords and identity verification came to $4 million -- which is a mere pittance compared to average national bills. But monetary values aside, a hacker has the ability to alter public policy and, possibly, presidential elections.

Take, for example, Sarah Palin who -- barely a month and a half away from Election Day -- saw her email account hacked into and screenshots posted on Gawker. Had there been a record of something more incriminating than family photos and personal cell phone numbers, the incident could have easily affected poll numbers for the GOP ticket -- but apparently couldn't change the results.

The latest trend in cyber crime is the Denial of Service (DoS) attack, in which servers are slammed by an overwhelming number of data requests that cause them to crash -- in some cases, permanently. AT&T (T) and the infamous 4chan both suffered DoS attacks in July -- the former mistakenly blamed the latter for the incident, which led to a legitimate attack against AT&T.

Google (GOOG), Facebook, and Twitter were struggling for hours earlier this month after a widespread DoS attack. Twitter saw the worst effects, with outages and incredibly slow servers throughout the day.

Despite the scale of these network outages, they can't hold a candle to those affected by some of our more ambitious computer hackers. Minyanville takes a look at 10 of the costliest cyber crimes of all time.
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