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2014 roundup: The most shocking stories of the year

2014 has definitely seen its fair share of shocking moments, many of which have seemed to originate from the ever-fascinating world of tech.

You might think that nothing could surprise a team of such experienced and professional writers that park their keyboards here at ITProPortal, but you'd be wrong. We've been as stunned as anyone at some of the stories that have surfaced this year although, thankfully, nothing's quite made us lost for words just yet. Maybe that will happen in 2015?

Anyway, without further ado, here's our picks of the most surprising, outrageous and downright shocking moments of 2014.

Sony bow to Hackers demands - Fadil Pašić

"A 12-year-old boy got home after school. What he found there shocked me!"

"You'll never believe what this old lady’s cat can do!"

"You have no idea what’s behind this clickbaiting headline!"

For me, 2014 was the year of the shocking headline. Everyone everywhere seemed to have switched to this new way of writing headlines, where everything is shocking, but most of it isn’t even worth the attention.

It’s hard to really get shocked when everything is shocking. But still, there’s this one moment that happened just recently that has received plenty of media space: The cancelling of The Interview.

A comedy movie with James Franco and Seth Rogan angered a North Korean hack group #GOP so much that they decided to hack Sony Pictures, steal terabytes of data and go on an online rampage, leaking info and completely and utterly destroying the company.

But even after stolen unreleased movies, classified data, Hollywood stars’ phone numbers, and countless new threats, Sony stood firmly, promising they will deliver the dreaded movie on time.

Until the hackers started putting the premiere of The Interview and 11 September into the same sentence. That’s when Sony decided to pull the plug and just cancel the show.

For me, the #GOP attacks on Sony and the aftermath has been the most shocking thing to happen in 2014.

The Interview

Microsoft CEO's ignorance about the tech industry -  Darren Allen

The biggest shock I had this year was probably when Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, put his foot in it when talking about women and wages in October.

Yeah, okay - you might argue while this was definitely a big, fat misjudgement, was it really that hugely shocking? But I’d say it was for a few reasons.

When Nadella came to Redmond’s throne, he was seen as the polar opposite to Steve Ballmer. Unlike Ballmer, a hot-headed china-shattering bull of a character, Nadella was seen as calm, measured, and not to mention brilliant and incisive. A different kind of CEO for a different kind of Microsoft moving forward into the mobile-first and cloud-first era.

So for Nadella to come out with the comment he uttered during an interview at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing was, well, unthinkable really. Even Ballmer could have worked out the particular line Nadella took with his reply wasn’t a wise one, to say the least (even if Ballmer would have stuck his tongue out a lot more during the interview).

Nadella’s comment, if you missed it, was that women don’t need to ask for a pay rise because the system will reward them with the right raises as they go along anyway, and that keeping quiet “might be one of the additional superpowers that quite frankly women who don’t ask for a raise have, because that’s good karma. It’ll come back.”

The system works? This would be the same system which has perpetuated a gender gap in terms of salaries in the first place.

That’s the really incredible thing for me - Nadella’s comment came against a backdrop this year of diversity reports which showed that multiple tech giants still aren’t doing enough in terms of gender equality.

Nadella, of course, apologised profusely in swift fashion, and admitted he was “completely wrong” in what he said.

The good news is that something positive has come from the blunder, with Nadella laying out changes to be made at Redmond in a memo to employees, with the specific aim of improving diversity across various departments, including engineering and top-tier management.

Those are two areas where women are particularly thin on the ground at Microsoft (and other tech giants for that matter).

Satya Nadella

iCloud hacking scandal - Barclay Ballard

One of the most shocking online stories of 2014, or perhaps any year, was the huge leak of nude celebrity images.

The pictures, which more often than not showed private, intimate moments shared between a celebrity and their partner, suddenly became available for perusal by millions. The images were allegedly stolen following a mass hack of Apple’s iCloud before making their way onto notorious image board 4Chan.

Social news site Reddit even had an entire page dedicated to the leak, dubbed “The Fappening.”

Aside from the massive invasion of privacy inflicted upon the, predominantly, female celebrities, perhaps the most shocking aspect of the leak was the reaction on social media.

Victims of the hack who spoke out were subjected to a predictably vitriolic stream of abuse. While this is hardly surprising, the voyeuristic nature of the reports from supposedly more reputable news outlets was even more concerning.

Many articles focused primarily on the content of the images themselves, whetting the appetite for subsequent leaks to come. Some broadcasters even blamed the victims for taking the intimate photos in the first place.

If any good has come of the 2014 celebrity nude scandal, it’s that mobile and cloud-based security is no longer a niche technology concept, but an issue for all of us to consider.

Jennifer Lawrence

FBI confirming #GOP sponsored by North Korean leadership - Jamie Hinks

In a year that had some unbelievable moments, the technology sector saved the best for last when the FBI confirmed just days ago that it has evidence that North Korea’s government was actually behind the Sony Pictures Entertainment [SPE] hack that exposed the personal details of workers and released a handful of films early.

After reporting on North Korea’s use of hacking a number of times through the year, I never actually believed that the country would get so hacked off with a movie poking fun at its leader that it would actually resort to tactics such as these.

The FBI reportedly found similarities with other hacking campaigns carried out by North Korea in the not-so-distant past, which in turn pushed it to make its public declaration that the country was behind it.

Even though the hacking damaged SPE, it still planned to release The Interview and it was only when terrorist threats were made against the theatres showing the film that the company decided to pull it from all cinemas.

Not only has the move called into question the already strained relations between the US and North Korea, it also has the ability to trigger off a wider debate when it comes to freedom of expression. Shocking stuff!

Sony, guardians of peace, sony pictures hack

Malaysian Airlines MH370 disappearance - Sam Pudwell

The most shocking story of the year for me (and probably for a lot of people) was the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 back in March.

With the level of sophistication on-board modern aeroplane's, suck as advanced tracking and warning systems, it seems impossible to think that a flight could just disappear, but that's exactly what happened.

There have been several conspiracy theories floating around, the most popular seeming to be that the flight was highjacked by some kind of cyber-attack.

Despite weeks of searches carried out by several governments and authorities, no wreckage was ever recovered, including the plane's Black Box which eventually led to a change in the regulations by European aviation authorities.

More shocking news has actually emerged very recently with Marc Dugain, a French writer and former airline chief, claiming that the plane was shot down by the US military.

Although these kinds of theories will continue to circulate about the missing MH370 flight, its becoming increasingly likely that we will never find out the truth about what really happened to the plane, or the 239 passengers it was carrying.

Malaysia airlines

Tor wars: Intelligence agencies both hate and need online anonymity

The story that made my jaw hit the floor this year was the revelation that the Tor browser is supported by Intelligence agents providing bug-fixes for the thing, whilst others working for the same organisations try to make it less-than anonymous.

In an interview with the BBC Tor developer Andrew Lewman said "It's sort of funny because it also came out that GCHQ heavily relies on Tor working to be able to do a lot of their operations. So you can imagine one part of GCHQ is trying to break Tor, the other part is trying to make sure it's not broken because they're relying on it to do their work.”

As the Internet privacy space and arguments get… weirder, it’s nice to have a bastion of anonymity in Tor, but with government’s bi-polar actions it makes me concerned about the future and if another Snowden-esque leak will even be possible in the future.

Similarly when it was found that a group of researchers had actually "unanonymised" (yes I just made that word up) the browser and, with calls for Twitter, Facebook, and even Google to offer some level of censorship, I begin to worry what "free speech" will mean in the coming years.

GCHQ, surveillance

Header Photo Credit: olly/Shutterstock