Tom Standage has a great story of the first cyberattack against a telegraph network.
The Blanc brothers traded government bonds at the exchange in the city of Bordeaux, where information about market movements took several days to arrive from Paris by mail coach. Accordingly, traders who could get the information more quickly could make money by anticipating these movements. Some tried using messengers and carrier pigeons, but the Blanc brothers found a way to use the telegraph line instead. They bribed the telegraph operator in the city of Tours to introduce deliberate errors into routine government messages being sent over the network.
The telegraph’s encoding system included a “backspace” symbol that instructed the transcriber to ignore the previous character. The addition of a spurious character indicating the direction of the previous day’s market movement, followed by a backspace, meant the text of the message being sent was unaffected when it was written out for delivery at the end of the line. But this extra character could be seen by another accomplice: a former telegraph operator who observed the telegraph tower outside Bordeaux with a telescope, and then passed on the news to the Blancs. The scam was only uncovered in 1836, when the crooked operator in Tours fell ill and revealed all to a friend, who he hoped would take his place. The Blanc brothers were put on trial, though they could not be convicted because there was no law against misuse of data networks. But the Blancs’ pioneering misuse of the French network qualifies as the world’s first cyber-attack.
EDITED TO ADD (6/13): More details.
Posted on May 31, 2018 at 1:23 PM •
Interesting history of the US Army Security Agency in the early years of Cold War Germany.
Posted on March 8, 2018 at 6:29 AM •
Good article on the history and practice of e-mail tracking:
The tech is pretty simple. Tracking clients embed a line of code in the body of an email—usually in a 1×1 pixel image, so tiny it’s invisible, but also in elements like hyperlinks and custom fonts. When a recipient opens the email, the tracking client recognizes that pixel has been downloaded, as well as where and on what device. Newsletter services, marketers, and advertisers have used the technique for years, to collect data about their open rates; major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter followed suit in their ongoing quest to profile and predict our behavior online.
But lately, a surprising—and growing—number of tracked emails are being sent not from corporations, but acquaintances. “We have been in touch with users that were tracked by their spouses, business partners, competitors,” says Florian Seroussi, the founder of OMC. “It’s the wild, wild west out there.”
According to OMC’s data, a full 19 percent of all “conversational” email is now tracked. That’s one in five of the emails you get from your friends. And you probably never noticed.
I admit it’s enticing. I would very much like the statistics that adding trackers to Crypto-Gram would give me. But I still don’t do it.
Posted on December 13, 2017 at 6:14 AM •
Here is a listing of all the documents that the NSA has in its archives that are dated earlier than 1930.
Posted on March 21, 2017 at 1:17 PM •
This is William Friedman’s highly annotated copy of Herbert Yardley’s book, The American Black Chamber.
Posted on March 20, 2017 at 1:47 PM •
New Atlas has a great three-part feature on the history of hacking as portrayed in films, including video clips. The 1980s. The 1990s. The 2000s.
Posted on November 4, 2016 at 12:12 PM •
It makes for interesting reading.
Someone noticed that parts of it read like standard modern office procedures.
EDITED TO ADD: I originally called this a CIA manual, but the CIA had not been formed yet. And, yes, I seem to have blogged this before—in 2010.
Posted on June 10, 2016 at 9:54 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.