The other day, I experienced a conversation that epitomized how much IT has changed in the past few years. As I was in a Teams meeting with remote-work colleagues about cybersecurity, one of my coworkers mentioned they’d just set up new high-speed internet at their cottage via Starlink, the satellite-based internet service from SpaceX.
As we discussed the future of cybersecurity, it occurred to me that this meeting was literally being beamed to space. I realized then just how astoundingly far innovations like this have pushed the boundaries of what is technologically possible. But advances in technology must always be coupled with advances in cybersecurity.
For as long as technology has served communication and data demands, it has needed cybersecurity. The very first instance of a cyberattack happened in 1834 – almost 200 years ago – when thieves stole market information from the French Telegraph System. Ever since the first attempt at secure wireless technology with Marconi’s Wireless Telegram in 1903, attackers and defenders have been in a war of attrition, trying to out-innovate and out-invent each other.
Cybersecurity was properly introduced when the internet’s precursor, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), became operational in 1971.
Pictured: ARPANET Logical Mapfrom March 1977 Source: MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
This led to the creation of one of the first antivirus programs, Reaper, created by Ray Tomlinson (who also invented the email). Reaper replicated and chased down the first virus, a near-harmless program developed by researcher Bob Thomas called Creeper. As technology continued to develop, and viruses became more malicious, new innovations enabled both the protection and breaching of digital networks.
Because the ARPANET and early internet were largely tools for the government and higher education, we didn’t see the first widespread virus attacks and removals until the late 1980s. The first encrypted virus was released at this time, known as Cascade. Cascade wreaked havoc on the large enterprise networks of the day by corrupting .com files. However, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.” This attack caused so much damage to IBM’s internal European network that they decided to develop one of the first enterprise-grade antivirus solutions.
While technological leaps are fascinating to watch, it’s important to also design systems with resiliency in mind. Innovations like the Internet of Things (IoT) are causing fragility in networks, with businesses having to rethink their standard practices to keep their users and data safe. COVID-19 has shown that innovation often comes as an adaptation to change. Companies that couldn’t or chose not to adapt to the need for remote work lagged behind those that could.
Change doesn’t wait for you to adapt – it happens whether you’re ready for it or not. Shadow IT and shadow SaaS (the deployment of unapproved technology solutions) are telltale signs that a business has failed to provide innovative or adaptive solutions for its workforce. With a business’ technology stack, it’s no longer viable to sit back and tell employees to play the hand they’re dealt. Understanding what technologies people need to be productive provides an opportunity to innovate with the type of new processes and technologies that unlock growth and higher employee engagement.
As history shows, invention allows for the most competitive advantages of any other business activity. Even businesses that don’t typically see themselves as inventors or innovators need to prepare – because ready or not, change will happen. It’s just a matter of whether you are willing to lead your employees and customers through it.
To quote Cofounder of Google, Larry Page: “Invention is not enough. Tesla invented the electric power we use, but he struggled to get it out to people. You have to combine both things: invention and innovation focus, plus the company that can commercialize things and get them to people.”
Alex is a cyber security research analyst at Stratascale. His background in both research and practical security gives him a unique perspective on providing security with a risk-based approach. He focuses his expertise on emerging technologies, data-driven IT strategy, and tactical solutions to large security problems.