Information Security History

This exhibit gives a history of the evolution of users, key technologies, threats, concerns, and security techniques in information security since 1960. Click on the links in the pre-web computing (1960s-'90s), open web (1990s-2000s), and mobile and cloud (2000s-future) section. What were the threats and concerns of each time period? How did security technology or techniques develop in response to those threats?

Pre-Web Computing (1960s-'90s)

Users and Technologies Before the Web

From the 1950s until the early 1990s, computers ("electronic brains") were introduced and gradually propagated outside corporate machine rooms and offices. Personal computers (PCs) became available to experimenters in the 1970s, and to a more general population in the 1980s. At first, these systems enabled interested hobbyists and other individuals to perform local tasks and to play local games. Some office workers had timesharing terminals or PCs to perform tasks like spreadsheet analysis and word processing.

Some hobbyists dialed into bulletin board systems (BBSs) or early commercial on-line services like Compuserve and America Online (AOL). Early dial-up service was adequate for command line interaction, but didn't enable more powerful graphical user interfaces (GUIs). A small community of ARPAnet and Internet researchers developed foundational networking technologies within a generally friendly and mutually trusting environment.

Key Technologies

Personal Computers

Personal computers started to become available in the 1970s, sometimes in the form of kits to be assembled by enthusiastic hobbyists. The preassembled Apple II was offered in 1977, followed by more refined, capable, and user-friendly successors like the IBM PC and Apple Macintosh in the 1980s.

Dial-up Modems

During this era, most remote service access took place over telephone lines at limited speeds. At first, acoustic couplers clamped onto handsets, avoiding direct electrical connection to the Bell System network, but this approach only reached speeds up to 1200 baud (bits per second). Later dial-up modems connected to phone lines directly and achieved speeds in the 56,000 bit/second range.

Office Local Area Networks (LANs)

In some offices, computers, file stores, and printers were linked together via local networks (LANs), commonly via proprietary methods like Novell's NetWare and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)'s DECnet rather than via emerging cross-vendor Internet standards.


Email was a primary application of early interest within and beyond the emerging Internet. It was the first computer-based method that enabled users to communicate across closed system boundaries, and became perhaps the first "killer" networking application. Email gateways converted messages, formats, and headers to satisfy the diverse requirements of different systems and networks.

Source: John Linn,
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