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The ultimate 2014 guide to hacking and cyber terrorism

It's now over 409 years since Guy Fawkes and his band of conspirators plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament with King James I inside. Since then, the world of crime and terrorism has come a long way, and perhaps a modern day Guy Fawkes would be more interested in hacking the parliamentary computer system rather than blowing it to pieces.

Here are some of 2014's greatest and most frightening acts of cyber terrorism, just to get you in the Bonfire Night mood.

Anonymous hacking the FIFA World Cup

Any list of cyber terrorists would be incomplete without a hefty dose of Anonymous. The loosely-affiliated online hacking collective has in the past pulled off some of the most daring hack in Internet history, and when Anonymous promised to attack the FIFA World Cup this year (opens in new tab), everyone got an inkling that much of the drama in Brazil would be taking place off the pitch.

According to a hacker who claims to have knowledge of the group's intentions, Adidas, Budweiser, the Coca-Cola Company and Emirates Airline were all in the group's firing line. Anonymous ultimately pulled off more than 140 individual attacks against sponsors.

Anonymous is thought to have been unhappy with the sheer amount of money that has been spent on the football tournament, in a view which reflects that of the numerous Brazilian locals who have taken to the streets over the months leading up to the competition to protest their cause.

In a country with such poor general infrastructure and public services, the general consensus was that the authorities had got their priorities completely mixed up.

Targets of #OpHackingCup eventually ended up including (opens in new tab) high profile targets like the Brazilian Federal Police as well as World Cup sponsors. In addition, the group hit the Brazilian Intelligence System, Hyundai Brazil, Brazilian Football Confederation, Brazil Department of Justice, Sao Paulo Military Police, Bank of Brazil, and the website with distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

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Syrian Electronic Army hacking Obama's Twitter

The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) emerged in September 2012. The hackers reportedly started attacking Western websites in retaliation for Innocence of Muslims, an anti-Islamic video that resulted in violent demonstrations in the Middle East. It has since been targeting news sites it believes are reporting news hostile to the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, including the New York Times, the Financial Times, The Guardian, the BBC, and even The Onion. Chat apps like Tango and Viber were also attacked.

The group returned in force in 2014, repeatedly taking aim at the White House (opens in new tab). As first noted by The Blaze, an older donation page on Barack Obama's campaign website temporarily redirected visitors to a blank page that said "Hacked by SEA" over the weekend.

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The group's campaign, however, also extended to Obama's Twitter and Facebook accounts. On its own Twitter feed, the SEA posted a screenshot of the Gmail account of Suzanne Snurpus, who works on "We accessed many Obama campaign emails accounts to assess his terrorism capabilities," the SEA wrote in an accompanying tweet.

The SEA was also able to sign in to the Obama campaign's Blue State Digital (BSD) account, a firm that helps candidates with online campaigning and organising. Access to BSD, according to Mashable, allowed the SEA to alter the links being posted to Obama's Twitter and Facebook accounts. For a time, those links redirected to a video of violence in Syria.

The SEA's usual move is to send emails to those it believes might have log-in information for desired social-networking accounts. Those emails include malicious attachments or phishing links, however, so anyone who engages with them runs the risk of providing the hackers with easy access to their accounts.

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Ukrainian anti-government hacks

During the height of the Ukrainian unrest this year, a number of cyber-attacks crippled several websites associated with the Ukrainian government of outgoing pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, after widespread allegations of a brutal police crackdown against peaceful protesters.

The official website of the President of Ukraine, Ministry of the Interior, and the official government portal were crippled in a series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. While all the sites were eventually brought back online, they were largely unavailable for nearly 24 hours.

The protests arose after the government of Ukraine put a halt to an agreement that would have paved the way for Ukrainian membership of the European Union.

More than a million Ukrainian citizens gathered in the streets of the capital, Kiev, to protest the government's stance. Many banners bore the protest slogan "And today we no longer fight to become Europe, we fight to remain Ukraine."

MoD researching Internet culture

Of course, the energy of cyber terrorism doesn't just flow one way, and the authorities have been doing their best to stay ahead of the various curves (opens in new tab). One branch of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is currently funding postgraduate research into Internet culture, online communities and hacker groups, according to new reports. The research will also focus on how the use of Twitter, Facebook and online conspiracy theories effect people in times of crisis.

The branch responsible, the MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), allegedly pays six-figure sums out of a £10 million budget to support chosen PhD students in their research.

While some of these projects are what you might expect from military-funded PhDs, such as the technology necessary to develop underwater drones, and "smart" clothing, others might raise some eyebrows in certain parts of the online community.

One example is the £97,487 of funding awarded to researchers at King's College London working on "the rise of the digital insurgency," research largely concerning the hacktivist group Anonymous.

What were your top hacks of 2014? Let us know what you think in the comments section below, or stop by for a chat with the ITProPortal team and other readers on ITProPortal's tech talk live chat.

Paul has worked as an archivist, editor and journalist, and has a PhD in the cultural and literary significance of ruins. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, The BBC, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and Discover Magazine, and he was previously Staff Writer and Journalist at ITProPortal.