Marking the anniversary of the day(s) that brought us all here
When you get down to it, we Americans are a nostalgic bunch, and we pay attention to our history. We celebrate our country’s independence on the Fourth of July, we recognize those who have served on Veterans Day, and on Memorial Day we commemorate those who lost their lives. Thanksgiving, Easter and of course our own birthdays are all days recognized because of their historical significance.
In the technology world, the first week of November is especially important, as the actions that took place during this week in years past are seen as giving birth to the modern world of — and need for — cybersecurity.
The self-replicating worm
Robert T. Morris is often seen as one of the great inspirations for cybersecurity, not because he helped create the system itself but rather because he created the need.
As a graduate student in the computer science program at Cornell University, in 1988, Morris created a self-replicating computer worm. He then launched it on Nov. 2 of that year onto the ARPANET, which was the predecessor to our modern-day Internet.
Morris’ goal had been to try and understand the total size of ARPANET by using the worm to infect systems so he could count the connections. But an error in the programming caused individual connections to be infected over and over, clogging networks and crashing systems. Thus, the first worm to draw comprehensive attention from the public and the media was born.
Morris’ act saw him dismissed from Cornell, fined $10,000 and placed on three years’ probation. But he would bounce back and ultimately go on to found Y Combinator and become a tenured professor at MIT.
The first virus
The first week of November, specifically Nov. 3, also marks the anniversary of what is widely considered the first computer virus.
For this tale we have to head back to 1983 and to the opposite side of the country, where Fred Cohen was a student in the School of Engineering at the University of Southern California. Cohen created the virus as an experiment for a demonstration on computer security. People took notice of Cohen’s creation and its effect. His work would continue and Cohen would eventually publish another piece — four years later — that showed no algorithm could ever be created capable of detecting every computer virus.
The face of cybersecurity today
The actions of Morris and Cohen, innocent as they may have been in their efforts, have translated into the modern cybersecurity industry market, one that totals more than $82 billion. We’re all involved in it, and while no company will ever celebrate the birth of the viruses they look for every day, we simply can’t ignore the history of their origin. In today’s market, it’s certainly worth our attention.