Cybersecurity & Cyberattacks, a Hand In Hand Development Through The Years

The birth of the internet and the digital era brought to the light the theme of “cybersecurity”, that over the past years gained more and more importance. Security, indeed, has always been a challenge for IT people and corporate organizations alike since the launching of the first internet network, ARPAnet. During the seventies, the first viruses appeared in this web, that was developed for military purposes and that later on  became a universal  tool. Robert Thomas was the engineer who developed the first malware called “creeper”. He realized that it was possible to move across networks through a computer program and leave a mark. Taking inspiration from Thomas’ malware, Ray Tomlinson, who invented the e-mail and was Thomas’ co-worker, managed to create the first computer antivirus and made it self-replicating. This antivirus was able to detect copies of the “Creeper” and destroy them.

Thus, the first viruses were born long before computer networks appeared in the market. The culprits were two engineers who simply tried to test ARPAnet.  After their actions, a path became known to new malevolent actors who, still nowadays, can put in jeopardy entire businesses and governments. It was during the eighties that threats became louder and clearer. The first hackers mostly committed felony by reading private documents, but later on this danger acquired a wider scope, at times affecting national security as a whole.  

In 1986 Markus Hess, a German citizen, was able to hack thousands of military computers, even processors at the Pentagon.  At the time, the Soviet Union was trying to use hacker knowledge as a tool to their advantage and Hess, understanding that there could be good money for him, tried to sell to the Soviets what he had found in his hacking activity. Hacking thus became a spy tool. On that occasion, it was only thanks to the American astronomer Clifford Stoll’s promptness that Hess was unable to complete this transaction. Stoll, during his time working at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab’s Keck Observatory, noticed “a 75-cent accounting error in the computer usage accounts”, an anomaly that he continued to follow, thinking that it was “just some kid on campus who was yanking my chain”. After some investigation and the unofficial involvement of agencies such as FBI, NSA and CIA, he prepared an ambush for Hess in which he fell into it and stayed long enough to geolocalize and stop him.

Another episode occurred during 1988 with Robert Morris, an American cryptographer and computer scientist. He created a worm similar to the “Creeper”, only more effective. His intent was to measure the size of the internet by infiltrating into the terminals of a group of multitasking computer systems called Unix. The problem was that this worm was so aggressive, that the internet was heavily affected by it and lots of damages occurred.

The aftermath of this activity was that during the nineties there was an exponential growth of antivirus scanners, conferences about cybersecurity became more frequent and the ways to tackle these attacks became a compulsorily trendy topic. With the blossoming of these antivirus programs, at the same time new and more sophisticated malwares were being produced with the same intensity, thus initiating a competition that is still hot today. From attacks made by individuals, we moved on to the formation of groups of hackers. This is the case of “Anonymous”, a community of users created with the intent of “protecting citizens’ privacy”. This group gained renown after they were able to hack the Scientology website.

The single hackers sometimes became fascinating figures for the public. Indeed, the public opinion was often divided over these individuals, who initially mostly stole private documents from governments. Let us look at  the case of Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked classified information of the National Security Agency. This gentleman found lots of defenders among the ordinary people and in society. The  ordinary public  was divided as to whether Snowden was to be considered a hero or a criminal and whether governments  were to be trusted or not.

On the one side, the public opinion was influenced by the presence of these characters half way between the hero and the felon, on the other side there were their victims who could suffer additional damages in case they did not promptly report attacks and did not give a timely account of damages and risks incurred by their clients. As it happened to Yahoo, who failed to report a breach happened years before their announcement, that  put in jeopardy 3 million users. Because of this delay in reporting this failure, Yahoo had to pay a fine of 35 million dollars.

It must be clear that  not only governments can be hit by these hacker attacks, but also private citizens. An example can be  found in  what happened in 2017, with the first so called “Ransom worm”, “WannaCry”, that infected millions of computer worldwide that run Microsoft windows as operating system. In this case, the unfortunate victims, all of them with blocked computers, received a request for the payment of a ransom  in bitcoin currency.

These facts teach  us that anyone can be hacked  at any time. Computer technology has evolved up to the point that it has changed our lives to such an extent that we all are strongly depending  on it . Consequently, given the importance of the topic and the stronger and stronger need for security, it is natural that companies such as Telsy were born and quickly gained a  momentum in the market.   The concept of security has constantly been redefined, from the seventies until today. As elsewhere in the world, this concept has become  a strategic issue in Italy, too, a country in which  the importance of prevention has become very clear, because the consequences of non-prevention very often can be very dreadful. In this perspective, Telsy holds a prominent position in a crucial field for businesses, for the public administration and for ordinary citizens.


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