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?

The Open Web (1990s-2000s)

Security Techniques

Security Techniques in the Open Web

As the Web and its user community grew, a range of security technologies were developed and implemented in browsers and servers. Much of the focus concerned protection of web traffic from interception or tampering while in transit across the Internet.

What security techniques and developments were important?

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS)

Early browser developer Netscape Communications created the cryptographic Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol, subsequently standardized as Transport Layer Security (TLS). SSL applied cryptography to help make the Web safe for customers' credit card transactions. It was soon adopted and implemented within browsers to authenticate web sites to users, triggering display of the familiar but sometimes confusing lock icons.

Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and certificates

PKI was a hot and hyped technology in the Internet bubble of the late 1990s, launching companies and high expectations. In actual practice, sites registered public-key certificates to authenticate themselves to users, but SSL's capabilities to authenticate users with their own certificates didn't replace many passwords.

IP-layer security (IPsec)

Many companies used IPsec-protected tunnels to allow remote employee access into corporate networks, or to link their distributed sites across the Internet. Most Web-facing business sites used the higher SSL/TLS protocol layer with its browser-level support to protect their customers' sessions, however.


As Internet-based attacks became more common, firewalls became a standard tool that organizations applied to restrict traffic into and out of their networks. Host-based firewalls also became common, filtering communications into and out of individual computers. The fact that many networks became effectively reachable only via the Web's http and https protocols served as one motivation for layering other functions on top of them, leading to the creation of web services.

Passwords and authenticator devices

Most users authenticated to most of their sites with passwords, leading either to user inconvenience in managing them or to user vulnerability by sharing the same password across multiple sites. Some companies issued two-factor authentication devices to their employees, avoiding many risks associated with passwords.

Malware scanning

Virus infections became common, and subscriptions to anti-virus packages (providing updated malware signatures as new malware modules were circulated and detected) became a prerequisite for safe use of Windows PCs. Research cited in this 2004 article found that it was likely for a new PC, once connected to the open Internet, to become infected within 20 minutes, likely before protective updates and anti-malware software would be installed. Early in the era, most malware could be detected using static signatures, but it became more difficult for these techniques to keep up as malware became increasingly sophisticated and dynamic.

Federated authentication

Significant effort went into development of federated authentication technologies like the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML), which enabled receiving sites (relying parties (RPs)) to accept user authentications performed by others (identity providers (IdPs)), but early adoption was limited partly because prospective relying parties hesitated to support and rely on independent identity providers.