A Very Brief History Of The Driving Factors Behind Cybersecurity


Cybersecurity has become more and more important as the world has become more and more networked. As we rely more upon computer systems, we have become vulnerable to malicious agents and out-of-control viruses. Here is a very brief history of the factors that have driven cybersecurity development. 

Reaper And Creeper

What came first, the chicken or the egg? A similar inquiry might be made about whether computer security breaches or security measures were developed first. Luckily, the answer is freely available. The security breach certainly arrived on the scene first – although not by a great measure of time. The creeper worm is largely considered to be the first computer virus. Bob Thomas developed it at BBN Technologies in 1971. The virus was self-replicating – allowing it to spread from computer to computer independent of human control. Far from being malicious, it was an experiment designed to test the interconnectivity of computers. When infected, a computer would display the following snide message: “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can’. 

Ray Tomlinson, more well known for his work inventing email, was impressed by the creeper virus. He foresaw future issues with self-replicating programs and developed the first cybersecurity program: reaper. The sole purpose of the program was to locate and delete creeper viruses. This led directly to the creation of the first antiviral software packages and made Firewall Security development accelerate. 

Markus Hess And Clifford Stoll

The astronomer Clifford Stoll and the hacker engaged in one of the most important and influential cybersecurity rivalries of the cold war during the mid to late 1980s. Stoll had taken on a job at the Laurence Berkley National Laboratory in California. Checking out a coding discrepancy, he noticed that an accounting leger was 0.75 cents off. This anomaly was no accident: it was evidence of a very significant problem. The Laurence Berkley National Laboratory held a huge amount of sensitive information – including some of the United States’ nuclear secrets. The accounting discrepancy was evidence that somebody had gained access to the computer systems at LBNL.

That person was Markus Hess. Hess was a German Student who had developed a passion for hacking. When he found out that shadowy figures were willing to pay for hacked information, he began breaking into sensitive systems and selling the information to the KGB. In order to catch Hess, Stoll had to develop a new cybersecurity technique – the honeypot. In cybersecurity, honeypots are servers that look easy to compromise. This is to lure hackers in so that they reveal key information about themselves. Experts still use this technique to this day. 

1987 And The Morris Worm

The creation of the Morris worm in 1987 ushered in a new age of computer viruses and cybersecurity measures. Far more than any virus before it, the Morris worm took advantage of computer networks in order to propagate itself. It was so widespread that it slowed the internet to a snail’s pace and forced the creation of national cybersecurity bodies. 

The 1990s And Firewalls

The 1990s were the heyday of unrestricted computer viruses. This led to the release of the first commercial firewall: DEC SEAL. A firewall is a system that monitors and controls all incoming and outgoing network traffic. Firewalls establish a barrier between trusted and untrusted networks in order to protect systems from malware and hacking. The success of a firewall rests upon how up-to-date the predetermined security rules it upholds actually are. The more up-to-date a firewall is, the more likely it will be to recognize when IP addresses and port numbers represent a plausible threat. 

Ransomware And Political Intrigue

In the 21st Century, cybersecurity has become more and more tied into international political power struggles. Hackers have had a huge impact on the political landscape in Europe, Iran, and the United States. Iran’s nuclear program was hacked by Israel. Hacking operations partially influenced Brexit, and the 2016 presidential election in the USA was affected by cybersecurity breaches in the democratic party. Cybersecurity is a matter of national importance in a world where information networks have become all-consuming and hyper-connected.

Ransomware – so called because it is intended to exploit money or information from victims – has also become a tool of nation-states. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was found to be responsible for the devastating wannacry attacks that ground healthcare systems and power grids to a halt through the encryption of sensitive information, which could be released after paying a ransom in cryptocurrency. 

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