HomeBlogSecurityThe History of Cyber Security: A Detailed Guide [Infographic]

The History of Cyber Security: A Detailed Guide [Infographic]

15th Sep, 2023
view count loader
Read it in
23 Mins
In this article
    The History of Cyber Security: A Detailed Guide [Infographic]

    Cybersecurity is one of the leading niches of information technology. It refers to the tools, frameworks, techniques, and practices implemented to ensure the security of computing, information, and other systems and their users. 

    Due to its popularity and importance, different courses on Cyber Security are available. However, one thing that they usually don’t cover or cover meagerly is the history or background of cyber security, which we are going to discuss in detail here. 

    An Overview: History of Cyber Security

    Contrary to popular assumption, the field of cyber security is not an invention that has only recently come into existence. If you think that the beginnings of cybersecurity may be traced back to when computers first got access to the internet, you are wrong, because protecting data that is only inside the computer and not over any network, comes also under cybersecurity. 

    With the dawn of the world wide web, installing antivirus software was necessary to protect your computer from attacks. Even though destructive assaults back then were not as well-known as they are today, the history of cyber security threats has kept pace with the advancement in information technology. 

    Without knowing the history of cybersecurity, one cannot fully comprehend its importance. In this post, we’ll examine the historical background of cybercrime and cybersecurity. For doing so, we’ll look at the past of cyber security threats. 

    Beginning of Cyber Security

    Since computers got connected to the internet and began exchanging messages, cybercrime has substantially changed. Even if the amount of risk is substantially higher now than it was back then, computer users have been understandably concerned about these threats for a long time.

    Cyber risks could change as technology develops. Cybercriminals are always developing new ways to access systems and steal data.

    A Look at Cybersecurity History Timeline

    Many people might believe that cybercrime just started a couple of decades ago. But security flaws have been in computer systems for far longer. Thus, the presence of cybercriminals has been around for a while. Let's examine the history of cybercrime starting from the 1940s. 

    1. The 1940s: The Time Before Cybercrime

    Cyberattacks were challenging to execute for about 20 years after the first digital computer was built in 1943. Small groups of people had access to the enormous electronic machines, which weren't networked and only a few people knew how to operate them, making the threat essentially nonexistent. 

    It's interesting to note that computer pioneer John von Neumann first raised the possibility of computer programs reproducing themselves in 1949, which is when the theory underpinning computer viruses was first made public. 

    2. The 1950s: The Phone Phreaks

    Computer information gathering was not the original purpose of hacking. It may be more accurate to say that early telephone use is where computer hacking originated. This became clear in the 1950s when phone phreaking became popular. 

    Phone phreaking became popular in the late 1950s. The phrase refers to various techniques used by "phreaks," or those with a particular interest in how phones function, to tamper with the protocols that permitted telecom experts to operate on the network remotely to place free calls and avoid paying long-distance charges. Even though the practice gradually disappeared in the 1980s, phone providers were powerless to halt the phreaks. 

    There are rumors that Apple's co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had a keen interest in the fan community for mobile devices. Similar ideas would subsequently be used in digital technology to create the Apple computers. 

    3. The 1960s: All Quiet On the Western Front

    Even by the middle of the 1960s, most computers were massive mainframes kept in temperature-controlled, safe environments. Access remained restricted, even for programmers, due to the high expense of these bulky devices. 

    Most of the development of the phrase "hacking" occurred during this decade. It wasn't caused by using computers, but rather by certain individuals breaking into high-tech train sets owned by the MIT Tech Model Railroad Club. They desired alterations to their functionality. This decade, the idea was transferred to computers. 

    However, accessing these early systems through hacking didn't seem to be a "big business." The goal of these early hacking incidents was just to get access to systems. However, there were no opportunities for political or economic gain. Early hacking was primarily about making a mess to see if it was possible. 

    New, quicker, and more effective hacking techniques have emerged throughout time. 1967 saw one of the most significant occurrences in information security history. At that time, IBM invited some students to check out a freshly created computer in their offices. The students were given training on this computer system. They got entry to numerous system components. As a result, IBM gained knowledge about the system's weaknesses. 

    As a result, the idea of implementing defensive security measures on computers to deter hackers began to take hold. It's possible that this was the industry's first instance of ethical hacking. In the present times, ethical hacking has become a reputed field that can be learned with a certified Ethical Hacker course online and other learning options. 

    Back to the discussion, the development of cybersecurity plans took a big stride forward with this. In this decade's second half, and significantly in the years that followed, the use of computers increased. They were also created in smaller sizes. Due to their affordability, businesses started purchasing them to store data. 

    It didn't seem feasible or desirable at the time to lock the computers in a room. Too many workers were needed by the employees. At this time, passwords were widely used to access - and secure - computers. 

    4. The 1970s: ARPANET and the Creeper

    The 1970s saw the actual start (and need) of cybersecurity. It was an important decade in the evolution of cyber security. The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was the initial endeavor in this. Before the internet was created, this connectivity network was constructed. 

    I'm the creeper; catch me if you can! was printed using a program developed by Bob Thomas, an ARPANET developer, using PCs connected to the network. For the first time, this program switched from one machine to another by itself. Although the experiment was harmless, we may presume that this was the first computer worm recorded in the history of cyber security. 

    Getting rid of an unlawful program is effectively the first task that the newly born cybersecurity offered. Ray Tomlinson, an ARPANET researcher who designed the first networked mail messaging system, created a program called Reaper that used every tool at its disposal to find and eliminate the Creeper worm. 

    5. The 1980s: The Birth of Commercial Antivirus

    High-profile attacks increased in frequency in the 1980s, including those at National CSS, AT&T, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. In the 1983 movie War Games, a malicious computer software commands nuclear missile systems while pretending to be a game. 

    The terms "Trojan Horse" and "computer virus" both made their debut in the same year. Throughout the Cold War, the threat of cyber espionage increased. This decade is when you can say the history of computer crime took flight. 

    Cybersecurity first emerged in the year 1987. Although various people claim to have created the first antivirus program prior to that, 1987 marked the beginning of commercial antivirus programs with the release of Anti4us and Flushot Plus. 

    6. The 1990s: The World Goes Online

    The internet saw growth and development of mammoth proportions during the whole decade. Along with it, the cybersecurity sector expanded. Here are a few significant developments in this decade in the history of computer security: 

    • Concerns regarding polymorphic viruses started. The first code that mutates as it spreads through computing systems while simultaneously maintaining the original algorithm was created in 1990. The polymorphic virus was difficult to detect. 
    • The DiskKiller malware was introduced by PC Today, a magazine for computer users. Numerous thousand PCs were infected. The DVD was distributed to magazine subscribers. They said they had no idea there was a risk and claimed that it was an accident. 
    • To get past security limitations imposed by antivirus programs, cybercriminals invented new ways. It was a valuable time in the evolution of cyber threats. Over time, new methods for dealing with escalating problems were developed. Among them was the Secure Sockets Layer or SSL. It was developed as a method to keep people secure when using the internet. SSL was introduced in 1995. It helps to secure internet transactions, web browsing, and online data. Netscape developed the protocol for it. it. Later, it would act as the basis for the HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) that we are using today. 

    7. The 2000s: Threats Diversify and Multiply

    The internet's growth during this time was amazing. The majority of homes and businesses now had computers. There were numerous benefits, but, unfortunately, cybercriminals also got new opportunities. A brand-new infection type that didn't require file downloads appeared at the beginning of this decade in the history of computer security. 

    Just going to a website with a virus on it was enough. This type of covert infection posed a serious threat. Additionally, instant messaging systems were compromised. 

    The number of credit card hacks also increased in the 2000s. There have been massive credit card data leaks. There were additional Yahoo assaults during this time. In 2013 and 2014, these were found. In one incident, hackers gained access to the Yahoo accounts of over 3 billion users.

    The Biggest Moments in Cyber Security History for the Last 10 Years

    2011: Sony’s PlayStation Network and Sony Pictures Suffers Multiple Attacks

    Hackers broke into Sony's PlayStation network in 2011 and stole the personal information of millions of PlayStation users, taking the network offline for several weeks. Anger over Sony suing an American hacker who tried to reverse-engineer the PlayStation 3 to enable customers to play unofficial third-party games was the driving force behind this attack. 

    The 2011 PlayStation Network outage (also known as the PSN Hack) was caused by an "external intrusion" on Sony's PlayStation Network and Qriocity services, which compromised the personal information of about 77 million accounts and rendered the service unavailable to users of PS 3 and PlayStation Portable consoles. 

    Sony was forced to shut down the PlayStation Network on April 20 because of the attack, which took place between April 17 and April 19, 2011. Clearly, it was one of the biggest events in the history of cybercrime and issues. 

    With 77 million PSN accounts registered at the time of the outage, it was not just one of the biggest data breaches but also the longest PS Network downtime in history. It outperformed the TJX breach from 2007, which had a 45 million customer impact. Concern was expressed by government representatives from numerous nations on the theft and Sony's one-week delay in issuing a warning to its users. 

    2012: Global Payment Systems Data Breach

    The Union Savings Bank, situated in Danbury, Connecticut, saw an odd pattern of fraud on about a dozen of the debit cards it had issued at the beginning of March 2012. It also noticed that many of the cards had recently been used at a cafe at a neighboring private school. 

    The Breach was limited to a small number of people, and it was made clear to the card holders that they wouldn't be responsible for any fraudulent card use. The first company to act against Global Payments was Visa, which did so by removing the latter from its list of authorized service providers. 


    A) Cyber Attacks on the Singaporean Government: The hacktivist group Anonymous launched the 2013 Singapore cyberattacks, which were a series of assaults in part in retaliation for Singapore's web censorship laws. An Anonymous member going by the online alias "The Messiah" claimed leadership of the attacks. 

    The People's Action Party Community Foundation website was the first target of the cyberattacks launched on October 28, 2013, and then the Ang Mo Kio Town Council website was targeted. After that, site administrators shut the site and filed a police report. 

    B) #OpIsrael Coordinate Yearly Cyber Attack: Hacktivists target Israeli government and even private websites during OpIsrael (#OpIsrael), an annual coordinated cyberattack, using DDoS attacks and other methods. On the night before Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2013, Anonymous hackers started the first campaign. Since then, the campaign has been held yearly. 

    C) Adobe: The 21st century saw 17 big data breaches, and one of them was targeted towards the American multinational computer software company Adobe Inc. 

    In October 2013, hackers were able to retrieve login information and almost 3 million credit card numbers of Adobe users. The total number of affected users was 38 million. 

    D) Edward Snowden Leaks Classified NSA Documents: NSA is no stranger to cyber-attacks. In 2013, Edward Joseph Snowden, a former computer intelligence consultant, leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency. He was an employee and subcontractor at that time at NSA. 

    The leaked NSA documents were passed on to The Guardian, who published them. It was yet another major point in the timeline of cybersecurity and cybercrimes. 

    2013 and 2014: Target and Home Depot Credit Card Data Stolen

    56 million customers of Home Depot had their credit card information stolen between April and September 2014 in one of the greatest data breaches since the origin of cyber security thanks to specially crafted malware. 

    To install malware on Home Depot's self-checkout machines in the US and Canada, hackers had to breach the retailer's network using credentials stolen from a third-party vendor. As a result, credit card information was exposed. 

    The hack happened at a time when government and commercial targets were frequently targeted by hackers. Globally, there were over 1,500 data breaches in 2014, about 50% more than in 2013. 

    Home Depot's theft was comparable to a security lapse at rival retailer Target in 2013 that resulted in the exposure of the personal information of an additional 70 million consumers as well as the credit card information of 40 million Target shoppers. 

    2013 and 2014: Yahoo! Suffers a Massive Data Breach 

    Yahoo's user database was directly attacked by hackers in 2014, affecting around 500 million people. According to reports, the fraudsters obtained account information including names, email addresses, passwords, phone numbers, and birthdays. 

    Ineffective security procedures contributed to the Yahoo data breach's severity. By employing a phishing method, hackers were able to infiltrate Yahoo's network. A hacker may have entered the system with just one person who had access to the network clicking on a dangerous link. 

    2014: Sony Dealt Another Blow with Attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment 

    A hacker group leaked confidential data from Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) on November 24, 2014. The hacker group identified itself as Guardians of Peace. Information about executive salaries at SPE, employee details, emails between them, plans of future Sony films, and scripts for certain films were part of the data leak. 

    The hacker group also used a variant of Shamoon wiper, a malware, to erase Sony’s computer infrastructure. Based on evaluating the network sources, software, and techniques used in the hack, the US Intelligence concluded that the attack was sponsored by the government of North Korea.


    A. Experian Data Breach Compromises 15 Million Records: This data breach was a result of a user error in the verification process of confirming customer identity. The Experian data was handed over to a cybercriminal pretending to be one of Experian’s clients. 

    B. Snapchat Users Personal Information Leaked: The usernames and phone numbers of an estimated 4.6 million Snapchat users were reportedly posted online for free by an unnamed hacker or organization. 

    It's not the entire Snapchat database, according to Wired Magazine's Kevin Poulsen. "Only a small percentage of Snapchat users are impacted." Although it was an enormous number. 

    All but the final two digits of Snapchat phone numbers were posted by hackers to a website named snapchatDB. They invited people who desired the whole numbers to contact the website for the uncensored database. 

    C. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Suffers Significant Data Breach: OPM announced being a target of a data breach that targeted personnel records in June 2015. It affected about 22 million records. 

    D. Ashley Madison Hackers Publish Users’ Email Addresses: It was one of the most widely covered hacks that shook the world. The Ashley Madison case is one of the most notable events in studying the history of cybercrime and issues related to it. 

    It happened in July 2015, when a hacking group identifying itself as The Impact Team stole more than 60 gigabytes of company data that included user details.

    E. 2015 to 2016: WikiLeaks and the Democratic National Committee: Carried out by the Russian intelligence agencies, two groups of Russian computer hackers - Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear - infiltrated the DNC computer network that led to a data breach. 

    The case received wide media coverage as it was alleged that Russia did this to support Donald Trump during the 2016 U.S. election. It is a topic that is usually covered in the brief history of cybercrime in politics. 

    2016: General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Adopted by the EU  

    GDPR is a legislative framework that establishes standards for the gathering and use of personal data from people living outside of the European Union (EU). It enables people to have more control over their personal data. Additionally, it updates and harmonizes regulations, enabling firms to cut back on bureaucracy and gain better consumer confidence. 

    One of the EU's greatest accomplishments in recent years was the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation act in 2016. It is the replacement for the 1995 Data Protection Directive, which was passed when the internet was just getting started. 


    • Equifax Breach Results in Compromised Data for Nearly 150 Million: The American credit reporting agency Equifax was subjected to a data breach in September of 2017 that exposed the personal details of about 147 million people. 
    • Shadow Brokers Leaks NSA Hacking Tools: Another leak for NSA happened in 2017, when a hacker group going by the pseudonym TSB or The Shadow Brokers leaked hacking tools used by the National Security Agency. 
    • The World’s First Ransomworm: WannaCry: WannaCry is probably the most infamous ransomware attack. It happened in May 2017 and was caused by WannaCry ransomware cryptoworm. The attack targeted systems running Windows across the globe.
    • NotPetya: Also known as the 2017 Ukraine ransomware attacks, Petya and NotPetya are a line of encrypting malware. NotPetya was used in June 2017 for a global cyberattack, especially Ukraine. 
    • Bad Rabbit Masquerades as an Adobe Flash Update: This is yet another major cyberattack that is an important case study for students interested in computer security background. Bad Rabbit is ransomware that spreads through drive-by attacks. In 2017, it appeared as an update for Adobe Flash that fooled users into downloading it. It asked for $280 in Bitcoin and gave a 40-hour deadline. 
    • Uber Suffers Breach Impacting 57 Million Customer Data Points: In 2016, hackers stole information from 57 million Uber accounts, which included both drivers and passengers. The company kept it a secret for over a year. When the event occurred, Uber was in negotiations with American regulators looking into many allegations of privacy infractions. 

    Uber now claims that it was legally required to notify authorities about the attack as well as the drivers whose license numbers were stolen. Instead, to hide the incident and erase the data, the corporation hired hackers. While refusing to reveal the identity of the attackers, Uber stated that it believes the information was never used.


    • Facebook Plagued by Privacy Concerns: In a "security update" published in September 2018, Facebook claimed that a compromise had resulted in the exposure of personal data of around 50 million users. The theft of "access tokens" used by hackers to access the accounts of around 30 million individuals was ultimately made public. 
    • 92 million MyHeritage Users’ Account Details Compromised: 92 million members of the genetic genealogy and family tree website MyHeritage had their passwords scrambled and emails stolen by unidentified hackers in 2018. No credit card information, nor (more unsettlingly) genetic information appears to have been gathered. 

    MyHeritage announced that it will work with an independent cybersecurity company to help investigate the breach and offer suggestions on how to guard against security lapses in the future. The business announced that it is accelerating its efforts to provide users with two-factor authentication. MyHeritage advised all users to change their passwords in the interim. 

    • Marriott Cyber Attack Goes Unnoticed for Years: In late 2018, Marriott announced that one of its reservation systems had been compromised. The data breach went undetected for 4 years, starting in 2014 and impacted 500 million hotel guests. 
    • Hundreds of Thousands of Records Breached in British Airways Cyber Attack: In this case, the attacker is believed to have accessed the personal data of over 429k accounts, which included both customers and employees. 
    • California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) Signed Into Law: Owing to the evolution of cyber threats, cyberattacks have become more complex and sophisticated. To cope with the same, The California Consumer Privacy Act was signed into law on June 28th, 2018, and it went into effect on January 1st, 2020. It includes a range of consumer privacy rights and business obligations with respect to the collection and sale of personal information. 

    2019: Breaches in Singapore’s Health Sectors

    Singapore is one of the worst cyberattack-hit countries in the world. Its healthcare sector is especially the most vulnerable to cybercriminals. In 2019 alone, there were 35 instances of third-party data breaches. This number increased to 89 in 2020. 


    This year was a challenging year for cybersecurity professionals as it was the year that introduced COVID-19 to the world. Even in the chaos, cybercriminals continued their illicit activities. These were some of the most important data breaches of 2020: 

    • [January] An internal customer support database at Microsoft is accidentally exposed online. 
    • [February] Personal information of more than 10.5 million guests of MGM Resorts Hotels leaked on a hacking forum. 
    • [April] More than 267 million Facebook profiles went up for sale on the dark web. 
    • [April] More than 500k Zoom accounts were posted on the dark web for sale. 
    • [April] The Maze group launched a ransomware attack on Cognizant Technology Solutions. 
    • [July] Hacking of celebrity accounts on Twitter. 


    2021 continued to see many cyberattacks. Ten of the most prominent ones were: 

    1. Microsoft Exchange Attack from January to March 
    2. Accellion Supply Chain Attack in January 
    3. Florida Water Supply in February 
    4. Australia Channel 9 News Ransomware Attack in March 
    5. CNA Financial Ransomware in March 
    6. Quanta Ransomware Attack in April 
    7. Brenntag Ransomware Attack in April 
    8. Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack in May 
    9. JBS Foods Ransomware Attack in May 
    10. Kaseya VSA Ransomware Attack in July 

    Looking to boost your ITIL knowledge? Check out our ITIL 4 Foundation Practice Exam! Prepare for success in a unique way. Don't miss out, get started today! 

    Cybersecurity in the Future - Beyond 2023

    Cyber risks come in many forms. Phishing, online data loss, and ransomware attack incidents often happen all over the world. Finding a means to reduce security breaches, however, is now more crucial than ever. 

    Cybersecurity markets are expanding fast. According to Statista, the size of the worldwide cybersecurity market is expected to increase to $345.4 billion by 2026. One of the most prevalent risks to any organization's data security is ransomware, and, unfortunately, its use is expected to rise. 

    Machine learning and artificial intelligence are two technologies that could see a rise in use in cybersecurity. For many businesses today, the effort to prevent cyberattacks is crucial. Modern technology is therefore required to do so in more meaningful and efficient ways. 

    These are but a few of the options. It may be necessary to build several novel ways to automate the procedure. That is why the business places such a high value on new skill development. The cybersecurity market is still expanding and thriving. Using recent technology reduces hazards. It's crucial to stay one step ahead of the risks. To do so, it frequently takes highly skilled experts from the sector. 


    In this blog, we have covered a brief history of cyber security, starting from the 1940s to up until now. As we can clearly see, over time both cyberattacks and cybersecurity measures have become more sophisticated. 

    With cyberattacks increasing both in terms of count and intensity, the need for proficient cybersecurity specialists is also on the rise. You can use KnowledgeHut’s courses on Cyber Security, books, tutorials, and so on to become a skilled cybersecurity professional. 

    Moreover, we also saw that the answer to the question of when cybersecurity started is uncertain. It can be said that cybersecurity is as old as the computer itself.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    1Why is cybersecurity important?

    Over the past decade, cybercrimes have increased dramatically due to advancements in technology. Therefore, businesses must build a strong cybersecurity ecosystem instead of relying solely on anti-virus and firewall technologies to protect their data. 

    2Who first created cyber security?

    When researcher Bob Thomas developed the computer software Creeper, which could move around the ARPANET network, the first cybersecurity checks were conducted. 

    3What are 5 things you should know about cyber security?

    5 things that one should know about cyber security are: 

    1. Millions of personal records are accessible to hackers. Thus, users must create strong passwords and try to change them at regular intervals. 

    1. Maintain software updates. 

    1. Keep backup of your data. 

    1. Use an antivirus program. 

    1. Avoid sensitive activities like online banking or shopping when utilizing a public WiFi network. 

    4Who regulates cyber security?

    Different countries and regions have different governmental bodies for regulating cyber security. For example, according to the terms of Section 70B of the Information Technology Act of 2000 (IT Act), CERT-In is the nodal organization for overseeing cyber security in India. 


    Akhil Bhadwal

    Blog Author

    With 8+ years of experience in developing content, Akhil is dedicated to making concepts (and life) easier for his readers. He started his career as a freelance product description writer in 2015 and then ventured out into multiple roles, including Senior Technical Content Writer (Programming) , Content Strategist, Technical Content Editor and Content Manager. Akhil is currently employed as a Marketing Manager and also offers services as a Content Consultant.

    Share This Article
    Ready to Master the Skills that Drive Your Career?

    Avail your free 1:1 mentorship session.

    Your Message (Optional)

    Upcoming Cyber Security Batches & Dates

    NameDateFeeKnow more
    Course advisor icon
    Course Advisor
    Whatsapp/Chat icon