Most Famous Breaches of Email Security

It seems that nobody is safe these days when it comes to the internet. After a number of hacks taken out on social networking sites like Twitter and multiple user outlets such Sony’s Playstation network, it would seem that internet trolls are just one step closer to getting into our personal email accounts. But it’s not just us that are at risk – celebrities, businesses, public services and government organisations are the prime target. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know what gossip-worthy gems lurk inside Britney Spears’ mail Inbox? Unfortunately, it is extremely unnerving to know that there’s a chance our medical records and bank details might be viewable to the public if certain email accounts were hacked, not to mention national security.

Web companies such as are doing their very best to ensure that our email accounts are well protected with encryption methods and secure delivery services , especially for businesses who are constantly sharing contact numbers and financial info inside messages. Unfortunately sometimes one little hacker can slip through the net - quite literally – if we’re not careful.

Here we look at some of the most famous breaches of email security.

Gone Phishing

One of the most well-known ways that hackers managed to compromise email accounts in recent years has been the conception of the Phishing site. Whilst nowadays, most email providers offer software to spot these menaces, they can occasionally be so convincing that we fall victim.

Basically, how phishing works is that a website or email appears legitimate but is actually an imitation created by the hacker to resemble the official website. An email will usually require you to click a link where you’ll be asked to re-type in your email password or enter personal details. This will then be intercepted or sent to the hacker who will use your information for doing bad, bad things. Hundreds were lured in by these scams after they made their appearance in the mid- 2000’s and caused a whole new revolution in the way email providers handled their security.

Sarah Palin

American politician and Republican Sarah Palin caused quite a stir when she ran for Vice President of the United States in 2008. During the Presidential Election, then-teenager David Kernell hacked into the private Yahoo! account belonging to Palin and then posted her details on image board site 4Chan. However, the way he did it could not have been simpler. All he had to know was her email address, birthday and zip code.

By researching details about her life such as the high school she attended and the place she met her husband on Google, Kernell was able to use the password retrieval function to answer her secret questions. Kernell was lateracquitted of his crimes after appearing in court but maintained that he never found anything of note except some boring ‘clerical emails’ from when she was a governor.


Google is probably the most-used search engine in the world so you’d assume that having a Google mail or Gmail account would be as save as houses. Apparently not…

In June 2011 a huge hack into the Gmail accounts of senior government officials from the US, China and South Korea was exposed by an internet blogger.

The alleged ‘cover up’ had been reported by Mila Parkour, an IT worker based in Washington, DC. Unsurprisingly, this was explained to be another phishing scam where the login page of Gmail had been replicated almost perfectly. The difference this time was that important military and government personnel’s accounts had been compromised. In result, China was blamed for what was described as ‘purely political’ attack on Google who had previously clashed with the Chinese government over censorship issues.

Though there is no solid proof that China are solely responsible for the hacks, the origins traced to the Shandong province and the attack caused a panic among US officials who labelled it as an “act of war”.

As techies worry that the world may be drawn into a technical arms race for information, Gmail have attempted to warn all users about such scams by improving their security systems and posting a ‘spot the difference’ page to deter people from entering details into phishing sites.


In 2009 a controversy surrounding The Climactic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia emerged when a server was hacked and thousands of emails and computer files were copied.

But why were CRU, of all organisations, targeted?

Anonymous sceptics believed that the documents which were exchanged by the scientists at CRU contained evidence that climate change was a hoax and a ‘scientific conspiracy’. Emails were said to withhold evidence of manipulated data and discussions between scientists in which they supressed the claims of their critics. Believed to be achieved by a hack into CRU’s back up mail server the emails were released as a smear campaign prior to the Copenhagen Summit on climate change in order to dissuade those attending the summit.

The incident was investigated extensively though to this day the hackers have never been caught and CRU have been forced to rebuild their reputation to sustain the message on climate change.


Almost ironically, technology security company HBGary Federal suffered a hacking scandal in February 2011 when chief executive Aaron Barr claimed he was going to reveal names of the hacker group Anonymous. In response they gleefully hacked the HBGary Federal site and, according to Forbes magazine, stole 71,000 emails. The emails were posted online and exposed ‘dirty tricks’ offered to clients such as blackmailing, forged documents and other cyber-attacks showing a more sinister side to the HBGary organisation. Many clients distanced themselves from the company during the fallout whilst Barr and his family suffered anonymous threats. Barr was later forced to resign from his newly tainted company.

R-Pattz gets bitten by hackers

If you’re going to hack a few government officials you might as well go for the big daddy. Although playing a pasty, Nancy boy vampire in films and complaining about how you’re constantly stalked by girls is not a justification for an unfortunate invasion of privacy, it didn’t stop us from cracking a tiny smirk when actor and British heartthrob Robert Pattison’s email account was hacked by a fan in March. Following Pattison’s admission of a 17 year old girl infiltrating his account, Famous magazine then twisted the tale in a deceiving headline that implied Rob’s emails were rather incriminating. Unfortunately, all it revealed was that the former Harry Potter star is just as boring as we expected and that some teenagers really are a tad crazy.



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