When Did the First Cyber Attack Happen?

Many would assume that the first cyber attack happened during the time computers were already in existence. Contrary to this assumption, the first cyber attack actually happened close to 2 centuries ago, back when there were no computers or internet at all.

The first cyber attack happened in 1834 when two banker brothers François and Joseph Blanc devised a plan to hack into the semaphore telecommunications system to get information on the Paris stock market exchanges days before the local competitors.

Who Were Involved in the First Cyberattack?

François Blanc and Joseph Blanc are brothers who worked as bankers for the Bordeaux Stock Exchange. The primarily traded with government bonds. Not much is said about their personal life. (Source: Deep Blue Telecom)

Several operators and an unnamed colleague were also involved in the telecoms fraud. (Source: The Amusing Planet)

What was the Plan?

Messages from the stock market took about 5 days or so to get to Bordeaux. People went as far as training carrier pigeons to send information. At this point, whoever had intel on the stocks first, made a fortune.

The brothers sought the assistance of a colleague from Paris to keep watch on the stock market trends in the Paris Stock Exchange since their trades truly dependent on the movement from the capital.

Later on that colleague would pass information on the stocks through telegraph operators back to François and Joseph in Bordeaux. (Source: Deep Blue Telecom)

How Did It Work?

The telecommunications system back in those days were very different with what we are familiar with now. Instead of cooper cables, they used a series of towers to create an optical telegraph.

The biggest problem the Blanc brothers faced with their plan is that the telecommunications network was only meant for government use. They found a way around this obstacle by getting operators involved in the scheme. (Source: Deep Blue Telecom)

How Long Did the Scam Last?

Surprisingly enough, the brothers were able to run the whole scheme for about two years. Despite the fact that their competitors were already suspicious of their actions.

The whole thing fell apart when one of the bribed operators confessed about the whole thing in his death bed. There are reports that say he confessed out of guilt, whereas others say it slipped while he was trying to recruit a replacement before he passed. (Source: Deep Blue Telecom)

The Blanc brothers and everyone involved were arrested in 1836. But since there were technically no laws broken, as there were no laws about the prohibition of the use of the towers for personal messages, the brothers were freed. The operators however, had to do time, since accepting bribes were illegal.

Because of this fiasco, new laws were immediately placed to protect the abuse of telecommunication especial with insider trading. (Source: Deep Blue Telecom)

When Did the Next Cyber Attack Happen?

The next documented cyber attack happened by accident in 1988. Robert Morris, a 20-year-old graduate student of Cornell University set loose a computer worm that did major damage to large sections of the internet.

Morris’ intentions were not malicious in any way. He just wanted to know how big the internet was, but his program started replicating itself and got out of hand.

Morris was sentenced to 3 years probation, 400 hours of community service, and made to pay a large fine. He was the first person to be charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. (Source: The Amusing Planet)

14 thoughts on “When Did the First Cyber Attack Happen?”

  1. Throwawayunknown55


    Short documentary thing about both the telegraph and the scam. This Guy does great short documentary things.

    Terry pratchett has a system like this on a few of his fantasy books

  2. Longshot_45

    Reminds me of the story of two brothers who just kept creating more stocks for their company and selling them when Rockefeller was trying to buy them out. Wasn’t illegal at the time.

  3. bungholio99

    Today they created an App called Robin Hood

  4. BarterBuddy07

    Reminds me of The Count of Monte Cristo.

  5. series_hybrid

    This is roughly how Nathan Rothschild made his first million. He saw how the French communication systems were slow, and he set up a network to get him fast results of French battles.

    Then immediately traded in French war bonds. (If France loses, they are worthless, if France wins, there are huge profits for bond-holders)

  6. LearningFinance23

    One of my long dead relatives ~~ancestors~~ was a switchboard operator for a financial/investing firm. She somehow retired very wealthy despite the low pay.

    Added bonus, she was a spinster who lived with her female “roommate” her whole life. My hero.

  7. mustang__1

    This is why you shouldn’t visit websites with invalid https certificates

  8. OC4815162342

    *man in the middle attack. As in that intercepted information between recipients.

  9. RudeInternet

    In a similar note, during the Mexican Revolution, Pancho Villa hijacked a train, filled it with his men, the had someone hack the optical telegraph thingy to send codes to relay everything was cool and awesome (after coercing the telegrapher to tell him the codes). Then the train rolled into Gómez Palacio, a stronghold of the authoritarian government at the time, his dudes came out and massacred all the men that were holding the city captive.

  10. Lecrapface

    Wouldn’t this technically be considered phreaking?

  11. subscribemenot

    Two brothers. It’s just called two brothers

  12. herbw

    Semantics: Hack, 20th C. word. Applied to computer systems.

    Event, above, 1st third of 1800’s.

    Dubious terminology.

  13. karma-armageddon

    It just amazes me they keep coming up with laws against things instead of coming up with ideas to prevent things from happening.

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