Issue No. 03 - July-Sept. (2012 vol. 34)
DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MAHC.2012.41
Lars Heide , Copenhagen Business School
On my desk is a New York Times article by David E. Sanger from 1 June 2012 on cyberattacks against Iran. Sanger, the newspaper's chief Washington correspondent, describes a series of sophisticated attacks reportedly launched by the United States using a computer virus called Stuxnet on the computer systems that run Iran's main nuclear enrichment facilities. According to Sanger, a series of Stuxnet attacks two years ago temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium. It even destroyed several centrifuges. A few days earlier, the New York Times ran a story about another US attack on Iranian computers. This time it appears the computers of high-ranking Iranian officials were penetrated by a data-mining virus called Flame. In contrast to Stuxnet, the Flame virus was designed to collect information secretly from a wide variety of sources rather than to do damage. 1
The US government has not officially admitted to putting offensive cyberweapons into action, and the two stories came from outside sources. However, the government has acknowledged that it is developing cyberweapons and sees great potential in the future. Some journalists have even argued that cyber capabilities now form another arm of the US government's military arsenal, in addition to the Air Force (air), Army (land), and Navy (sea).
In this issue, Edward Hunt's article, "US Government Computer Penetration Programs and the Implications for Cyberwar," provides the background to these recent news stories on cyberwarfare. The US Department of Defense was the driving force behind the development of highly sophisticated computer penetration methodologies in the 1960s and early 1970s. By analyzing the security of the nation's time-sharing computer systems, security analysts developed an expert understanding of computer penetration, which became much more powerful through the Arpanet and Internet. The publicly funded studies, which began in the mid- to late 1960s, united experts throughout the defense establishment, including specialists from industry and academia. Eventually, the US and its intelligence agencies began utilizing computer penetration techniques to wage offensive cyberattacks.
Two of the four additional articles in this issue address the development of computer use in Chile and Yugoslavia. Over the last several years, the Annals has worked to publish articles on the development of computing beyond North America and Western Europe. These articles once more illustrate that computer technology outside this sphere was much more pervasive than commonly assumed.
Juan Alvarez and Claudio Gutierrez's article on the history of computing in Chile, "History of Computing in Chile, 1961–1982: Early Years, Consolidation, and Expansion," complements Eden Medina's book on cybernetics and politics in Chile during Salvador Allende's presidency (1970–1973). 2 Alvarez and Gutierrez study the diffusion of computers in university, government, and industry. They start in 1961 with the arrival of the first digital computer and follow the field's history from a university perspective until the early 1980s. At that time, computer use across government institutions and private companies reached a critical mass that sustained computer science training at universities and private institutions.
"Half a Century of Computing in the Serbian Copper Mining and Metallurgy Industry" by Dragan R. Milivojevic, Marijana Pavlov, Vladimir Despotovic, and Visa Tasic discusses the history of computer control and computer-aided data processing at the Copper Mining and Smelting Complex Bor (RTB Bor) in the former Yugoslavia (Serbia since 2006) between the 1950s and 1990s. During this period, RTB Bor acquired and applied four computer successive computer systems. The computer development both reflected Yugoslavia's government-controlled economy and that Yugoslavia was a neutral country that had easier access to Western computer technology than the East Bloc countries under Soviet control. RTB Bor's history to a large extent followed a pattern similar to that of similar Western companies.
Early Computing Applications
This issue's fourth article by Brian J. Shelburne, "The ENIAC's 1949 Determination of π," studies how George W. Reitwiesner used the ENIAC computer in 1949 to determine π to more than 2,000 decimal places. His article contributes an important case to our understanding of the objectives and results from early computer applications and the complications of attaining them. ENIAC was not designed to perform this type of calculation. It could only store 200 decimal digits, while the determination of π required manipulating numbers more than 2,000 digits long. To appreciate the history of programming, we need to understand the impact of hardware constraints and software intricacies on early programming.
An important new technology in the late 1970s and early 1980s was programmable pocket calculators. Such advanced calculators were the first to achieve widespread use in teaching, public planning, and business. In "Once Upon a Pocket: Programmable Calculators from the Late 1970s and Early 1980s and the Social Networks Around Them," Dejan Ristanović and Jelica Protić show how the introduction of programmable pocket calculators in the mid-1970s opened up a new segment of the personal computing devices market. The users of programmable calculators established clubs, magazines, and conferences, demonstrating the willingness to openly share their programs and innovations with fellow enthusiasts. Their interaction with manufacturers often generated actionable feedback that contributed to shaping the products' further development. This interaction between users and producers resembled the simultaneous development of early PCs, where user groups also played an important role.
Lars Heide is an associate professor at the Centre for Business History at the Copenhagen Business School. Contact him at email@example.com.