Cyber Threats History: Rise of the Hacker Culture (1980s)

After John Draper and his electronic whistling abilities gained a wide audience, there was a major shift in computing and hacking enjoyed a golden era of sorts in the 1980s. Society started becoming aware of hackers as computers became increasingly accessible and as networks grew in both size (number of terminals) and popularity (number of users) throughout the late seventies and early eighties.

During the 80s, the hacker population probably went up 1000-fold and there are mainly three events credited with doing the most in this area. Personal computer and clones were made available to the public at cheap prices. People could afford to buy a terminal and set up a BBS. And, where you find BBS's, you find hackers.

The movie War Games depicted the existence of hacking and the potential power associated with it. War Games displayed hacking as a glamorous thing and made it look easy. The movie shone a flashlight onto the hidden face of hacking, and introduced the wider public to the phenomenon. This created a degree of mass paranoia with the threat of hackers getting into any computer system and launching nuclear missiles. However, for a vast teenager audience, the movie gleaned a different message. It implied that hacking could get you girls. Cute girls…

Almost simultaneously, two novels had a great impact in popular culture: Cyberpunk, by Bruce Bethke, and Neuromancer, by William Gibson. The combination of the aforementioned factors catapulted hacker culture into the mainstream media.

By the late 1980s, the home PC had become more prevalent but large corporations still cornered the market on the technology. However, computers were no longer limited to the realms of hardcore hobbyists and business users; anyone, including existing and yet-to-be-realized hackers, could acquire a computer for their own purposes. Modems, enabling computers to communicate with each other over telephone lines, were also more widely available and significantly extended the hacker’s reach.

While phreakers were still blowing whistles into phone receivers, a new type of delinquent emerged; the cracker. This term, disputed until today, refers to a criminal hacker who uses his skills with criminal intentions far beyond the simple exploration of computer systems. This new breed of “hacker” directed its knowledge and tenacity toward distinctly criminal pursuits, including the distribution of pirated commercial software, games, and viruses and worms that could virtually shut down systems. Hacker and cracker clubs surged in popularity becoming nothing short of an epidemic, and in 1986, the U.S. government tried to thwart the problem by passing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).  

Historical Landmarks:



Steve Bellovin, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis develop and establish USENET for the UNIX to UNIX Copy (UUCP) architecture. USENET resembles a bulletin board system (BBS) but there is one major difference: the absence of a central server and dedicated administrator. USENET is a decentralized news network distributed among many servers that store and forward messages to one another.  


A group of German computer enthusiasts with a strong political orientation forms the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) in Hamburg.  

CCC Logo

Cyber Threats History: The Age of Phreaking (1970s)

The 70's were a magical decade, producing a new type of hacker, one focused on telephone systems. These hackers, known as phreakers, discovered and exploited operational characteristics of the newly all-electronic telephone-switching network that enabled them to make long distance calls free of charge. In the 1970s, the cyber frontier was wide open and hacking was all about exploring and figuring out how the wired world worked.

The phreaker movement is an important early example of anti-establishment subculture that spawns influential hackers and visionaries in the realm of the personal computer. Back then, phreaking offered hackers a potent allure. It meant unraveling a mystery and sharing the results with friends. It was not as much about the nefarious phone exploitation as it was about understanding the complexity of the system. The only thing missing for the hacking scene was a virtual clubhouse where all the best hackers could meet and to overcome that, in 1978 two guys from Chicago created the very first public dial-up Bulletin Board System.  

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After monitoring around 33 million toll calls to find phreakers, AT&T scores 200 convictions.   Universities and defense contractors begin connecting to ARPANET and the network keeps expanding.  

ARPANET December 1970  

Cyber Threats History: The Beginning (1960s)

In the early years of the 21st century the word "hacker" has become associated with people lurking into dark rooms and anonymously terrorizing cyberspace. But hacking and phreaking have been around since the 1960s when computers were true behemoths housed in restricted laboratories accessible only to a few geeks. Back in those days it was impossible for any teenager to buy a computer and only accredited professionals were allowed the privilege of programming these powerful machines.

The original hackers were only students, computer programmers and systems designers, adherent of a new subculture that originally emerged in the 1960s around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC). The members of this model train group "hacked" their electric trains, tracks, and switches to make them perform faster and differently. A hack was simply an elegant or inspired solution to any given problem.

Later, a few of the members of the TMRC transfer their curiosity and rigging skills to the new mainframe computing systems being studied and developed on campus. At this time, MIT employed some nerds to do some artificial intelligence and computer research. These guys actually created the models for the machine you are working on right now and were truly the first programmers and engineers in the field of IT.

Cyber Threats History: An Overview

Before going over the history of cyberspace threats, let me take a moment to define what they are and to categorize them according to my personal view.

A cyber threat can be loosely defined as a conscious attempt to obtain unauthorized access to a computer system to extract or manipulate data or to violate the confidentiality, integrity, authenticity or availability of data inside the system.

There are numerous ways to organize these activities and you can find thousands of different takes on the subject, this one is mine and I say cyber threats can be grouped into 4 main categories:  

Cyber Terrorism

Cyberterrorism has become one of the most significant threats to the national and international security of modern states, and cyberattacks are occurring with increased frequency. Being a politically and emotionally charged subject, it was never possible to reach an international consensus regarding the development of an accepted comprehensive definition of the term "terrorism".

Therefore, there are literally hundreds of definitions of terrorism, many of them biased by the political view of its creators. I won't get into that debate but I will quote a political description of terrorism used by the United Nations General Assembly, back in 1994: "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them." With this in mind, how can we define cyberterrorism? It is obviously a very controversial term with many possible definitions depending on the scope of the actions performed.

Trying to avoid all the debate around the motivation, targets and methods involved I would define cyberterrorism as the use of the Internet and information technologies to organize and execute attacks against networks, computer systems and telecommunications infrastructures with ideological motivations.
Cyber Terrorism

Nanotechnology Applications


Nanobiotechnology is the unification of biotechnology and nanotechnology, thus it's a hybrid discipline dealing with the making of atomic-scale machines by imitating or incorporating biological systems at the molecular level, or building tiny tools to study or change natural structure properties atom by atom. This goal can be attained via a combination of the classical micro-technology with a molecular biological approach.


Tiny medical hardware can interact with tissue in the human body at a molecular level to conduct more precise diagnosis and healing of malignancy. Many illnesses and injuries have their origins in nanoscale processes. Accordingly, practical usage of nanotechnology to the practice of medical care and biomedical investigation unlocks opportunities to treat illnesses, repair injuries, and enhance human functioning beyond what is possible with larger scale techniques.

How nanotechnology affects everything

Nanotechnology scientific impact

While there is a commonly held belief that nanotechnology is a futuristic science with applications 25 years in the future and beyond, nanotechnology is anything but science fiction. In the last years over a dozen Nobel prizes have been awarded in nanotechnology, from the development of the scanning probe microscope (SPM), to the discovery of fullerenes. Almost every university in the world has a nanotechnology department, or is expecting the funds to create one.
Nanotechnology offers opportunities in creating new features and functions and is already providing the solutions to many long-standing medical, social and environmental problems. Because of its potential, nanotechnology is of global interest, attracting more public funding than any other area of technology.

There is an unprecedented multidisciplinary convergence of scientists dedicated to the study of a world so small, we cannot see it - even with a light microscope. That world is the field of nanotechnology, the realm of atoms and nanostructures, something so new; no one is really sure what will come of it.

One of the exciting and challenging aspects of the nanoscale is the role that quantum mechanics plays in it. The rules of quantum mechanics are very different from those used in classical physics, which means that the behavior of substances at the nanoscale can sometimes contradict common sense by behaving erratically. You cannot walk up to a wall and immediately teleport to the other side of it, but at the nanoscale an electron can - it's called electron tunneling. Substances that are insulators, meaning they cannot carry an electric current, in bulk form might become semiconductors when reduced to the nanoscale. Melting points can change due to an increase in surface area. Much of nanoscience requires that you forget what you know and start learning all over again.

Signcryption standard increases cyber security

Signcryption, which University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor Yuliang Zheng created, is a technology that protects confidentiality and authenticity, seamlessly and simultaneouslyis and is particularly useful in cloud computing for ensuring confidential, authenticated transmissions. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has published a standard for a public-key technology that combines signing and encrypting a message in a single step.

The first signcryption scheme was introduced by Professor Yuliang Zheng in 1997 and he continued his research in this revolutionary new technology at the College of Computing and Informatics. After nearly a three-year process, the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) has formally recognized his research efforts as an international standard.

News of the ISO adoption comes amidst daily reports of cyber attack and cyber crime around the world. Zheng says the application will also enhance the security and privacy of cloud computing. "The adoption of signryption as an international standard is significant in several ways," he said. "It will now be the standard worldwide for protecting confidentiality and authenticity during transmissions of digital information."

"This will also allow smaller devices, such as smartphones and PDAs, 3G and 4G mobile communications, as well as emerging technologies, such as radio frequency identifiers (RFID) and wireless sensor networks, to perform high-level security functions," Zheng said. "And, by performing these two functions simultaneously, we can save resources, be it an individual's time or be it energy, as it will take less time to perform the task."

There are also many other signcryption schemes that are proposed throughout the years, each of them having its own problems and limitations, while they are offering different level of security services and computational costs.