cybersecurity history

Looking Back at the Cybersecurity History

The cybersecurity history began with a research project. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at how cybersecurity has evolved through the decades. 

A man named Bob Thomas developed a computer program that can move across a network. Thomas named the program Creeper and the small trail it leaves is the message “I’M THE CREEPER: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.”

Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of email, saw this idea and liked it. Hence, he developed a self-replicating version of the program, making it the first computer worm. Furthermore, Tomlinson wrote another program named Reaper. Its job is to chase Creeper and delete it. Thus, Reaper is considered the first antivirus software in history. 

The question is how did we get to the era of cybercriminal activities like ransomware and malware?

The Quick Turn 

Before going any further on cybersecurity history, take note that threats to computer security back then were clear and present. However, these threats were not digital. Instead, they were malicious insiders reading documents they don’t have the privilege to. 

Yet, network breaches and malware did exist. They were used for malicious intent during the early history of computers. For instance, the Russians swiftly began to use cyber power as a weapon. In 1986, Marcus Hess, a German computer hacker, breached an internet gateway in Berkeley. Then, he used that connection to access Arpanet (the early version of the Internet) without permission. 

Hess hacked 400 military computers to sell the Pentagon’s secrets to the KGB. Yet, astronomer Clifford Stall detected the intrusion and deployed a honeypot technique. This ultimately led to the capture of Marcus Hess.

The Morris Worm and the Viral Era

Two years later, a man named Robert Morris wanted to measure the size of the Internet. Morris wrote a program designed to crawl across computer networks. Moreover, he used a known bug to infiltrate Unix terminals. The unique thing about this program was it can copy itself. However, the Morris worm replicated so aggressively that it had brought untold damage to the early Internet. 

Morris became the first person successfully charged under the Computer and Fraud Abuse Act. He served three-year probation and is now a tenured professor at MIT. 

After the Morris worm, viruses began getting deadlier, bringing more system damages. Furthermore, this has paved the way for the need for antivirus. In 1987, the first dedicated antivirus company launched into the market. 

Ransomware Enters the Game 

The concept was simple yet deadly – hackers would “kidnap” your files and you’ll pay a ransom. The WannaCry ransomware infected more than 230,000 computers in over 150 countries. An estimated 1.3 billion endpoints were eventually infected. WannaCry is considered the biggest ransomware offensive in history.

In the UK, the National Health Service needed to cancel approximately 20,000 appointments and operations due to WannaCry. Whether lives were lost remains unknown. But one thing is for sure – it crippled the country’s health service. 

This was just the beginning of ransomware’s role in cybersecurity history. Up to our time, it remains one of the most popular methods used by hackers. 

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