Startling Cyber Attacks of 2021 and What They Mean for the Future of Digital Security
Digital Security

While businesses bear the brunt of cyber-attacks, everyone is at risk when it comes to insufficient digital security – and the attacks of 2021 have made that fact abundantly clear. No longer are most cyber-criminal organizations interested in targeting inconsequential consumers or small businesses; instead, top criminal hacking groups are looking to cause massive disruption with their malicious code. Though the year is far from over, 2021 has already seen some of history’s largest and most devastating cyber-attacks. If you missed them in the headlines, here’s a quick review of the worst cyber-attacks in 2021 to date.

Oldsmar, Florida Water Treatment Plant Hack

On February 8, 2021, an employee at a water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Florida noticed that there was a strange change in the chemical levels of the water. It seemed that someone had altered the controls within the plant’s computer system to increase the level of lye, or sodium hydroxide, by a factor of 100, prior to the water entering the public supply. This chemical composition is exceedingly toxic and could have led to dire injury and widespread death – if the employee hadn’t intervened at the exact right time.

Unfortunately, the change to chemical levels wasn’t a fluke; it was an intentional attack from an unknown bad actor who infiltrated the plant’s computer systems. Fortunately, there weren’t any consequences, this time. This was likely the first of many, many attacks to come on America’s notoriously vulnerable infrastructure.

CNA Financial Ransomware Attack

CNA Financial is one of the world’s largest insurance companies, generating over $9 billion in revenue every year. So, when the firm announced that it had been victimized by a ransomware attack in March – and that said ransomware attack had locked the entire company out of its computer systems for two whole weeks and resulted in a ransom payment of over $40 million – the story took the business and tech world by storm.

Understandably, CNA Financial worked to keep this story under-wraps, to reduce damage to their reputation and maintain customer trust and loyalty. Thus, few details about the attack are known, except that the ransom payment of $40 million is the largest ever given to hackers. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies recommend against paying ransoms, which encourages cyber-attacks and gives cyber criminals funding for further attacks. It is possible that CNA Financial’s could be the first of many multi-million-dollar ransom payments, which will contribute to increasing rates of cybercrime.

Houston Rockets Data Breach

In April, the Houston Rockets were beset by a data breach that resulted in the theft of various contracts, non-disclosure agreements and other confidential documents. The attackers attempted a much larger-scale breach, with the likely intention of disrupting operations and impacting the performance of the team, but successful cybersecurity tools thwarted a significant portion of the attack.

The attack was perpetrated by a group calling themselves “The Ransomware Gang,” who are new and relatively unknown in the cybersecurity sphere. It is likely that increasing numbers of bad actors will join forces to create similar groups, which improves the strength and speed of their cyber-attacks and makes attacks on larger organizations more likely to succeed.


As the world has become more reliant on digital tools and systems, cybersecurity becomes ever more important. As these major events of 2021 have demonstrated, it is no longer just data that is at risk from cyber-attacks; it is physical systems that affect the health and wellbeing of large populations of people.

The supply chain for water, fuel, food and other resources critical to human survival can easily be disrupted by the wrong vulnerability at the right time, so it is even more important that organizations utilize experienced cybersecurity professionals and perhaps educate the rest of their workforce through a trusted cybersecurity course online.

Digital threats like these are not going to disappear any time soon. In fact, most cybersecurity experts believe that attacks will get worse before defenses evolve to mitigate them. The sooner we understand the reality of the cyber threat landscape today, the sooner we can prepare our cybersecurity for tomorrow.

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