The History of Cybercrime and Why Cyber Security is so Important Today

As technology advances, it brings us many benefits, from increased productivity and efficiency to enhanced communications and cost reductions. But with advances in technology inevitably come heightened risks. Of course we are talking about cybercrime, which has exploded in recent times. But cybercrime isn’t such a new phenomenon. Here we are taking a look at a brief history of how the likes of hacking and phishing became so widespread, with a view to demonstrating how crucial it is to take cyber security seriously.


A potted history of cybercrime… when did cybercrime start?


The term ‘hacking’ first came about in the 1960s when in actual fact, it was looked upon in a positive light. In those days, it referred to modifications that model train enthusiasts undertook to improve the functionality of the machines, without re-engineering them altogether.


This was actually quite something back in the 1960s, when ‘to hack’ meant to find a simple solution for an issue, or to come up with a way to improve how a device functioned.


Hacking takes on a negative stance


It wasn’t until the 1970s that hacking became associated with malicious intentions. The change came about when a group of techies discovered that they could create codes that would provide them with access to free long distance telephone calls. These techies were known as ‘phreakers’, and they used a variety of processes to obtain confidential information from the Bell Telephone Company, allowing them to find ways of modifying their software so as to get access to the services. They even went through the company’s rubbish and carried out experiments so as to collate sufficient data to support their crimes.


As technology advanced, so this new wave of hackers would discover new opportunities to profit from cybercrime.


Early computer systems lacked the security protocols that are in place today. They were vulnerable to attack, and criminal activities were burgeoning. It was time to fight back.


In 1986, Clifford Stall, systems administrator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, introduced the first digital forensic technique that was used to determine whether an unauthorised user had access to a computer system. The technique was a success, and helped lead to the arrest of a group of hackers in West Germany who were illegally obtaining and selling sensitive military data.


Cybercrime on the rise


Throughout the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s, cybercrime incidents grew considerably in number. The most significant had to be the Morris worm virus of 1988, an intelligent, malicious program that was unleashed on the internet from a computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The cyber worm began to propagate at speed, bringing computer systems down in their droves. Within 24 hours, around 10 per cent of the internet connected computers within the University of California had been hit.


The damage caused by the Morris worm ran into $98 million.


Criminalising cybercrime


In 1986 in the USA, hacking became a punishable crime under the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But the battle between hackers and computer users was only just beginning and, with every advance in technology, cyber criminals only became more innovative.


In 1990, the Computer Misuse Act was introduced, criminalising cybercrime in the UK.


Cybercrime today


These days, we have more to contend with than worms. We have viruses that have the power to damage or delete hardware, software or files. Trojans that can steal data. Spyware that invades users’ privacy by monitoring websites and gathering sensitive information such as passwords and financial details. And ransomware capable of holding data hostage and demand payment in exchange for reinstating access. Unauthorised access and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, where computers or network services are overwhelmed by internet traffic and rendered unavailable, are also major cybercrime issues.


Despite the best efforts of worldwide cybercrime agencies, including the UK National Crime Agency (NCA), cyber criminals are still finding ways to launch attacks and carry out their unscrupulous activities, often costing businesses hundreds of thousands of pounds and putting millions of people at risk in the process. There has also been a marked increase in cybercrime during the pandemic.


It is clear that cybercrime will always be a problem. It is therefore up to us all to be responsible and vigilant, taking appropriate steps and adopting good cyber security habits to protect our devices and networks as much as we can.


Don’t be a victim of cybercrime… get the protection you need from PC Docs


At PC Docs, we provide a comprehensive package of cyber security solutions, all of which can be tailored to suit your individual business requirements and unique cyber risk assessment.


We offer a variety of services, including anti-malware and adware systems, firewall and antivirus setup and management, internet and spam filters and email scanning software. We can also provide you with general advice on cyber security best practice.


To discover how we can help keep your organisation safeguarded against cybercrime, you are welcome to get in touch.

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