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History Lesson: Cybersecurity Through the Decades

Cybersecurity is major for the modern business, but where did it all start? Let’s take a quick dive into the important cyber milestones (both innovative and nefarious) throughout the decades.


Even before computer crime as we know it, there were thieves searching for something to steal. In 1834, the French Telegraph System was hacked to obtain stock market data.


In 1939, Alan Turing built the very first prototype computer to break the Nazi Enigma codes. I highly recommend watching the fantastic movie “The Imitation Game” to learn more about this!


Gen. René Carmille became the “first ethical hacker” in 1942. A member of the French Resistance and Director of the National Statistical Service (SNS), Carmille sabotaged the Nazi census data. Since names and addresses of Jews couldn’t be produced for roundups, he saved thousands of lives.


Late 50’s – Phone Phreaks started to manipulate telephone signaling to make free phone calls. While avoiding long-distance fees is illegal in itself, some phreaks even wiretapped phones or stole telecom equipment.


Allan Scherr, a Ph.D. candidate, committed the “first cybersecurity attack” in 1962. After MIT set up passwords for privacy, students were limited to four hours of computer time per week. Allan made a punch card to trick the system and gained access to everyone’s passwords. This allowed him to log on as other people for more hours. He confessed 25 years later.


In 1971, Bob Thomas realized that a computer program could leave a trail across networks. He created the first computer worm called Creeper, which was designed for demonstration, not destruction. Ray Tomlinson (inventor of email) built a code called Reaper to chase and destroy it. Thus the first antivirus software was born.


The first U.S. Patent for Cybersecurity was awarded to MIT in 1983. The RSA algorithm was one of the first public-key cryptosystem.


Cyber was weaponized in 1986 when German hacker Marcus Hess tried to steal U.S. military secrets. Using computers hosted at Berkeley to connect to ARPANET, he hoped to sell info to the KGB.


In 1988, the Morris worm aggressively infected thousands of computer networks, causing the internet to essentially crash. Robert Morris was caught and became the first person sentenced under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Shortly after, The Computer Emergency Response Team was formed to keep watch for future internet abuses.


Early 90’s – As technology evolves, there’s a surge of cyber threats and attacks. At this point, the Antivirus industry is born.


In 1995, the secure sockets layer (SSL) was created, enabling internet users to securely purchase items online. This system translated into the “https” we see at the beginning of web addresses today.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was enacted in 1996. An important cyberlaw, HIPPA is still used today to balance the flow of medical data between doctors and the need for privacy of protected health information.


Towards the end of the ’90s, the Melissa Virus was unleashed, attacking computers via downloaded Microsoft Word docs. It caused $80 million in damages and made users more cautious about opening unsolicited email attachments.


2003 – Anonymous becomes the first universally known hacker group, made up of a community of online users. They generally attack high-profile targets, such as the Church of Scientology, on their quest to protect citizens’ privacy.


Between 2003 – 2008, Albert Gonzalez hacked into several large corporations to steal credit and debit card information. His criminal ring compromised approx. 45 million cards from TJX retailers and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.


In 2012, the Federal Cybersecurity Research and Development program was developed in the White House. The goal is to build a framework for cyber risk detection and response.


Former CIA employee Edward Snowden leaked classified NSA data in 2013. His whistleblower activities highlighted that the U.S. was effectively spying on its’ citizens. People’s opinions of him differ; he is either a hero or a traitor.


2017WannaCry infected 200,000+ computers in one day. Considered the most destructive malware ever created, WannaCry encrypts data and forces the victim to pay a ransom in Bitcoin. If the hacker was not paid, the data would be lost forever.


What the Future Holds

Phishing attacks, where users are tricked to open authentic-looking emails or links, are the largest threat to cybersecurity today. Training your employees to identify and report suspicious activity will help protect your business from exploitation.

Moving forward, IT security experts need to work smarter, not harder. As new technologies emerge, we can leverage their AI and machine learning tools to reduce cyber vulnerabilities. All businesses should be outfitted with real-time threat intelligence and automated data backups.


To learn more about cybersecurity solutions to protect your business, or just more about how to keep your network safe, send a message to Iserv at https://www.iservworks.com/contact

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