A history lesson in computers

“Back in the day” computer illiteracy was a very different beast than it is today, most urban legends about people using CD-ROM trays as coffee cup holders is actually something I have seen in the real world. Today there is a 50/50 chance that you and many others don’t even know what a CD-ROM is, but if it was still a thing, odds are that nobody would be using it as a cup holder today at all. The reason for this is that our society has become technology saturated, so gone are the days where very few people knew how to operate a touchscreen.

This is a double edged sword though. We are an overwhelming amount of people who are more than capable of using smartphones and laptops, for things our parents would never even have dreamed possible. The backside of this coin though, is that the usability, graphical user interfaces and point and click programming are also masking the dark underbelly of computers from view.

The underbelly I am referring to is of course private data, identity theft and several types of digital fraud. We have never had easier access to documents, pictures and media, especially our own, but that also means that everyone else has easier access to it as well. Although this is not intentional and a lot of companies do spend a lot of time trying to make things secure (and a lot don’t), any device that is connected to the internet is potentially always at risk.

History can be a good read

Back in the 80’s and 90’s we essentially had what is called “security through obscurity”, which means that the chaos in how things are distributed is your kind of a safety net. It was not intentionally built like this, but back then we didn’t have just 3 different flavors of user interfaces, everything was different from the type of computer, user interface, down to phone lines and access to the internet. Most importantly though “the Cloud” also wasn’t a thing, so having a centralised place to “rob” for your or my personal information simply wasn’t possible. Every piece of information lost back then, almost always had to be a custom made attack, which meant it had to be worth something to someone.

Today a lot of things are standardised and we mostly only use Apple, Microsoft or Google products, with a small minority using something called Linux, which we won’t get too much into today. This makes attacks easier as everything is similar and centralised and therefore usually easy to locate if it is just possible to find a way in. This is also the reason for the upswing we have seen in lost information and attacks on private people, as an attack these days will almost always yield something beneficial, as you have access to hundreds of thousands of peoples information, not just one private person or a branch office.

Don’t get me wrong though, it also means it is possible for IT professionals to band together on security, as well as share any security flaws they find and get it fixed quickly. It means that security has never been better, but as with all security it will also never be perfect, the simple reason being that we now have much bigger targets and also many more people who are technically capable of computer crimes. This is also what we will be exploring over the next few weeks, both how things can be dangerous, but also what you yourself can do to help prevent your information being lost.

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