Taking a snapshot of 2015 on the internet might make you consider stepping offline and not going back.

After the huge cyber attack on Sony Pictures at the end of 2014, with fallout that rumbled into this year, the news of similar attacks has felt almost relentless.

While it’s true that the high-profile nature of these attacks has increased as the world moves ever more online and the opportunities for attack increase – it is also true that the Sony attack raised public awareness dramatically.

Here then, is why 2015 was the year of the hack.

Make sure you check out our guide: What to do if your PC is affected by malware.

Sony Pictures fallout

Sony Pictures headquarters
(Damian Dovarganes/AP)


Though the attack itself – allegedly by North Korean hackers – actually took place in 2014, so much of the fallout occurred in 2015.

Having gained access to Sony’s internal servers, the hackers, who called themselves The Guardians of Peace, installed malware that wiped data from the servers. There were suggestions the hackers may have had some inside knowledge from a former employee,

The damage inflicted was as widespread as the hack itself, which crippled Sony’s internal systems and saw mountains of data stolen, ranging from personal information to a trove of emails between Sony executives and some of Hollywood’s biggest names.

The script for Spectre leaked, as did an email exchange where the Sony’s Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin discuss Angelina Jolie, at one point referring to her as a “spoilt brat”.

10 terabytes of data were allegedly stolen and the world heard about Sony Pictures well into 2015.

Mumsnet and swatting

Justine Roberts
(Yui Mok/PA)


One aspect of the attack on Mumsnet sounds almost routine: the forum site was targeted by a hacker with a denial of service (DDoS) attack, which floods it with traffic until it is taken offline.

But this was only the beginning, as the hacker allegedly behind the attack then targeted Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts with a swatting attack. This is when armed police are sent to a victim’s home after a hoax call to the authorities.

The act has become popular among hostile gamers in the US who attempt to send Swat teams to rivals’ homes while they are live streaming their gameplay online. The aim is to time the arrival with a live broadcast.

Roberts took Mumsnet offline briefly while the hack was dealt with, which also saw a Mumsnet user who attempted to interact with the alleged hacker on Twitter also be “swatted”.

Ashley Madison

The Ashley Madison website
(Lauren Hurley/PA)


The first of the two big cyber attacks of the year that involved hackers seemingly on a social justice campaign.

In July a group calling themselves The Impact Team stole user data from the servers of Avid Life Media, the parent company of adultery website Ashley Madison, and said they would publish the information online unless the site was shut down.

Given the nature of Ashley Madison, many users were keen to avoid being publicly outed as using the site.

Ashley Madison charged a leaver’s fee to permanently delete all the personal info of an account holder but The Impact Team also claimed leavers’ data was not deleted.

This they said, was part of the reason for targeting Ashley Madison.

Lists of names and addresses were made available online shortly afterwards, with a second data dump containing emails from Avid Life Media’s CEO Noel Biderman.

A further twist came as the site did’t require email addresses used to create accounts to be verified, meaning many of those profiles created were likely to be based on false details.

Nonetheless, the debate on internet privacy was again raised in the wake of the hack.


Anonymous vs Isis

Two people in the Guy Fawkes masks used by Anonymous
(Dominic Lipinski/PA)


Part of a much wider issue, but hacktivist group Anonymous, in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, went online to confirm the beginning of a cyber war with Isis.

The jihadist group has prominently used social media for recruiting, communication and propaganda purposes and Anonymous said it planned to stop this.

In the latter months of the year, Anonymous targeted Isis on Twitter – posting links to accounts linked to fighters and supporters with the aim of getting them shut down. The group later claimed several thousand were closed as a result.

Insults have been traded on both sides, and this one looks set to rumble on into 2016.