A Brief History Of Cyber Security

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Cyber Security has been as relevant as hacking since the early days of computers, networking and technology. For a hacker, there are three vital things involved before an attack is carried out. They are: the “means”, “motive” and “opportunity”. The “means” simply refers to the skillset and how available tools are to the hacker; “motive” on the other hand refers to the reason the hacker wants to carry out the attack e.g., financial gain, to get noticed or even for fun; whereas “opportunity” refers to the vulnerability needed to carry out an attack at any given time, e.g., if there are open ports, if there is a means of bypassing access into a datacenter, etc. Despite the world enjoying technological advancements, hackers have also not gone to sleep and have used these advancements to fashion more tools to attack victims.

The Early era of Cyber Security

In the early years of technology, before birth of the internet, ARPANET (which later metamorphosed to the internet) was the existent network used for communication via email and transfer of other data and information. During this period, a lot of research was still on-going regarding the improvement and discovery of new technologies which led different researchers to put their names in the record books regarding their discoveries. In 1971, one researcher named Robert Thomas discovered that programs can move across a network and these programs usually leave traces wherever they go through. He then decided to create a program which he named Creeper and transmitted it between TENEX terminals, printing the message “I’M THE CREEPER: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.” Shortly after this, the founder of e-mail, Ray Tomlinson created an enhanced version of the Creeper with an added feature of the program replicating itself and not just moving round networks. Tomlinson went further to create another program called Reaper, which was set up to move round networks to detect Creepers and delete them. Reaper (which was technically also a virus) went on to become the first program to detect a malicious program and this discovery is what is referred to as an Anti-Virus in the modern era.

This paragraph is aimed at taking a brisk journey on the evolvement of Cybersecurity. In 1973, people had started abusing the technology behind telecommunications by bypassing phone network protocols. In addition, a virus was discovered in 1981 and this was called The Elk Cloner virus which affected majorly Apple II computers and was spread with the use of floppy disks. In 1983, the Internet and World Wide Web began to shape out with the advent of TCP/IP protocol which was implemented as the standard protocol for intercommunication. Viruses later became more rampant, which led John McAfee to invent the first anti-virus company in the US. The advent of McAfee Anti-Virus in the US encouraged other anti-virus companies like NOD Anti-Virus in Czechoslovakia spring out. In the early 1990s – when internet use became mainstream, the first web browser and portals like AOL were released which made it easy for users to surf the internet and on the dark side, also get defrauded. As the internet began to grow, add-ons were created for browsers which hackers were able to manipulate and wrap deadly viruses and malwares in. Also, phishing which is basically used to collect information from victims without their knowledge was discovered by hackers and this has become a very rampant threat due to the ease of implementation.

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A timeline of notable hackers over the years include:

  • Robert T. Morris, a student of Cornell University created the first Internet Worm in 1988.
  • David L. Smith created the Melissa Virus in 1999.
  • Jan de Wit authored the Anna Kournikova Virus in 2001.
  • Adam Botbyl, alongside two friends conspired to steal Credit Card information from Lowe’s hardware chain.
  • Lulzsec, a prominent hacking firm, performed several high profile attacks against top organizations like CNN, Fox and SONY.
  • Anonymous, another prominent hacking group, also attacked various targets, including NEWS and Government agencies.
  • Gary McKinnon gained information on UFOs by hacking and infiltrating 97 US military NASA computers. He was also able to shut down the US Military’s network of about 2,000 computers for a duration of 24 hours.
  • Adrian Lamo was also known for hacking Yahoo!, Microsoft, Google and The New York Times which led to his arrest. He later went on to turn WikiLeaks suspect, Bradley Manning over to the FBI.
  • Jonathan James (aka c0mrade), was arrested at the age of 16 for hacking into the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) of the US, installing a sniffer that stole passwords of users and other sensitive information. This caused NASA to shut down its system and pay a huge sum of money. He however had a bitter ending by committing suicide in 2008.
  • Kevin Mitnick, who is now a Cyber Security consultant, was once convicted of hacking high-profile organizations like Nokia, Motorola and Pentagon in the early 2000s.
  • Tobechi Onwuhara, a US-based Nigerian who was also at a time on FBI’s most wanted list, used Social Engineering as a major tool in swindling a lot of victims millions of Dollars around the early-2000s.

The Current Era of Cyber Security

Fast forward to some years after the early era of technology, ARPANET had grown larger than envisaged which transformed into the internet (cyberspace) and later became global in the early 1990s. This means more users getting on-boarded to this global network with more researchers, inventors and of course malicious users. Due to the benefits the internet adds to our everyday activities, most individuals, organizations, communities, countries, regulatory bodies, etc. have become accustomed and dependent on it for the broadcast, transfer and storage of important information. These information include but is not restricted to: trade secrets, very confidential state matters, different databases of top organizations, Credit Bureau information, Credit Card information of customers, as well as other financial and personal details of millions of people. It is pertinent to state that the growth of this global village has been parallel to the growth of malicious users on the network, enabling so many malicious entities to use this wonderful platform to steal money and important information from top individuals and organizations in the cyberspace.

With the advent of so many new technologies alongside easy access to the internet, hackers have devised different methods and tools to penetrate even the most secure networks. They even make use of basic human psychology and socializing, technologically referred to as social engineering which Nigerians popularly call “Yahoo Yahoo” (to be discussed later in this write-up) to trick users to lose finances and/or revealing delicate personal information. This kind of trick requires very basic technology to pull and can be done by a near-illiterate person in the corner of his bedroom. Also, the advent of the use of mobile phones to easily access almost any internet-based service, application and information has increased the amount of users on the internet, also increasing the amount of hackers globally. Hackers have constantly devised new tactics on how to attack victims’ which includes new malwares such as spyware, adware, worms, rootkits and even spam. They have also realized that they can make money out of it and have started holding companies to ransom by disrupting their activities and requesting for money in return to restore services back to them. A good instance of this is Ransomware.

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