The Birth of Cybersecurity

Now that we’re more than a week into October, it’s time to celebrate the birthday—well, birth month—of Cybersecurity Awareness Month. The goal of Cybersecurity Awareness Month is to help individuals protect themselves from threats designed to digitally steal their confidential information. The theme of this year’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month is See Yourself in Cyber, which stresses that cybersecurity is really about people, not technology. Also, the need for more cybersecurity professionals. Several studies estimate that the unemployment rate of cybersecurity professionals is around 0%. That’s not a typo. In other words, if you’re a cybersecurity professional, you won’t have a tough time getting hired.

To honor the 18th year of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, it’s great time to look back at the beginning of cybersecurity.

In The Beginning…

As with most great inventions, it didn’t take long before somebody created a threat. While the initial threat didn’t create much of one, it did give way to the first cybersecurity term that’s still widely used today—hacking.

Hacking as we know it didn’t involve computers but MIT’s Model Railroad Club, which was created to promote model railroading among MIT students. Yes, that’s true. A group of members successfully hacked into their system to alter and adjust the functionality of high-end model trains and locomotives. While the hacking was innocent enough—they weren’t looking to make money or spread a virus—a new name and its definition were born. That was several years before the first threatening attack was launched.

Today’s internet began as ARPANET (The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)) in the early 1970s. It was, like today’s internet, a networking of computers. A man named Bob Thomas theorized that to network computers each would need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs that would reveal its journey. He was right, discovering as much after creating and deploying a computer program called Creeper. While it sounds threatening, it wasn’t, but more of an innocent game of cat and mouse. It left the message I’m the Creeper: Catch Me If You Can on connected computers. A man name named Ray Tomlinson took him up on the challenge.

Tomlinson, who was later credited as the inventor of email, developed a program he called Reaper. It was essentially the first antivirus software. Tomlinson designed Reaper to self-replicate itself and, by doing so, track down Creeper. It did. If that sounds like a worm, it was. Yes, the computer worm, which gained notoriety in the 1980s, was born.

While Reaper was innocent enough, it didn’t go unnoticed by the U.S. government. They wondered what would happen if a Creeper-like program infected its systems. What would that mean to national security? Their frightening question resulted in the creation of The Protection Analysis Project. It identified suspected vulnerabilities and the potential for automation to uncover them.

The First Cybercriminals

It wasn’t until the end of the 1970s that the first cybercriminal was discovered and brought to justice. From his bedroom, 16-year-old Kevin Mitnick hacked into The Ark, a system at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). DEC was the first corporate victim of cybercrime. The Ark created operating systems and Mitnick was able to hack into it and make copies of its proprietary software.

Along with law enforcement, Mitnick’s story also got the attend of 2 screenwriters— Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes. They wrote 1983’s War Games, a movie that was a box office hit and made the public wonder if the fictional story was an omen of things to come.

The worm gained steam in the late 1980s by Cornwell University student Robert Morris. He was curious about the size of the internet, so he invented a worm to provide the answer. His worm, which was never given a name, would replicate itself while infecting UNIX systems. This vulnerability allowed Morris to tally connections on the internet. However, Morris erroneously created a programming error that spread across computers, infecting each. Yes, using the word “infect” got an additional definition.

Morris was the first person to be convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986. He was given 3 years’ probation and fined $10,000. However, his life of crime didn’t get in the way of his career—he eventually became a professor at esteemed MIT.

The Perfect First Step to Elevate Your Cyber Security Posture

To advance your cyberthreat education and learn how to combat today’s attacks, contacting the cybersecurity experts at Radware is your perfect first step. Their empirical experience and expertise delivering Redware’s award-winning solutions has for years helped secure the digital experience to enterprises large and small worldwide. You can contact them HERE. They’d love to hear from you.

Richard Arneson

Richard Arneson is a 30-year marketing and sales professional in the high tech and telecom sectors. For the past decade, Richard has focused on his passion - creating engaging, informative and entertaining written content about the wondrous, amazing world of technology.

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