Brief History of Computer Security

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-- Mark Havens 12:32, 9 April 2010 (CDT)



In general, when we refer to the security of something, we often refer to anything that is free from a certain risk of danger. Likewise, in the context of modern information technology, Information Security simply means that information is protected from a certain risk of danger, such as being stolen, lost or damaged.

Brief History

1970 to 1989

Telephone Networks

While perhaps the earliest instance of computer security arose out of a need to physically protect hardware, the most modern problems of remote security didn't take shape until curious individuals began exploring and eventually compromising the increasingly complex and automated telephone networks. The first example of this occurred after the first computerized switchboard was brought online in 1976.[1] And "by 1982, half of all calls were switched electronically".[1]

The Modem

As technology matured, the modem became a common tool for remote computing. The FBI began getting involved in remote computer security breaches as it "became increasingly commonplace throughout the 1980s, prompting the passage of Computer Fraud and Abuse Act".[2]


While there may be debate about the first malicious computer programs on the Univac 1108 and IBM S/360 in the 60s or 70s, the most notable concerns persisted after the personal computer began making its way into households. The 80s gave rise to the secondary computer security problem of the computer virus. Once IBM and Symantec started researching methods of discovering and deleting viruses from infected computers as well as ways of preventing infection, virus writers began increasing the sophistication of their methods to avoid detection.[2]

1990 to 2009

The Internet

While most of the security issues in the 80s involved directly communicating with at a computer or network via modem, the Internet created a vastly under protected interconnectivity of networks that made security even more complicated. Whereas before, protecting a single access point was the principle concern, with the Internet, there presented a problem of a seemingly limitless number of virtual access points coming through persistent connections with often unknown entities outside your network.


While first created by Cisco in the 80s, firewalls did not become a principle network securing technology for the Internet until there was sufficient need to secure sensitive systems. Firewalls are useful in that they become the central gatekeeper for all incoming and outgoing connections. Centralizing this type of security provides the benefit insuring that certain restricted communications are allowed or disallowed, depending on a predetermined rule.

Escalated Attacks

As the number of companies and government organizations throughout the world increased their dependency on computers and the Internet, so did malicious attacks.[2] Companies begin steadily increasing their security policies to keep pace with growth. Eventually, the government begins to mandate computer security compliance for major companies.


  1. Krupa, F., (1992). The Evolution of the Telephone System: From Bell's Electric Toy to the Internet. Retrieved November 23, 2009 from
  2. Net Industries. (2009). Computer Security. Retrieved November 23, 2009, from Computer Security Programs: