Personal Computing in 2002 and Today
Even as malware and other significant challenges emerged, computer users continued to enjoy the benefits of technological innovation over the last 10 years. Provided is a â€œthen and nowâ€ review starting in 2002 of the state of computing for PCs, mobile computing, and online services in addition to the origins of malware.
By 2002, PC CPUs used a single-core architecture and had just surpassed 2.0 GHz in processing speed. Windows XP, which was released in late 2001, required 64 MB of RAM but 128 MB was recommended; 512 MB was a fairly common configuration. Hard disk drives ranged to 120 GB in size, and LCD monitors were becoming increasingly popular. USB connectivity for peripheral devices was widespread, but the much faster USB 2.0 specification had only recently been ratified and was therefore not yet available.
At the outset of 2012, multi-core CPUs are common and speeds have surpassed the 4.0 GHz mark, several times faster than systems available in 2002. Windows 7, released in 2009, requires 1 GB of RAM but 2 GB is recommended. Typical hard disk drives range from 600 GB, a five-fold increase from 2002, to 1 TB or more in size. Itâ€™s possible to obtain a 23-inch monitor for less than $200 USD in the United States, and monitors built with LED technology (an improvement over the older LCD technology) are widely available. USB 3.0 is the emerging connectivity technology, but USB 2.0 is still the most widely used standard.
In 2002, the fastest laptop CPUs had barely broken the 1.0 GHz mark. 512 MB of RAM was a common configuration, along with a 20 GB to 30 GB hard disk drive. Combination DVD/CD-RW drives were still a rarity and CD-ROM drives were still the norm. Sound quality and high-definition (HD) displays were still on usersâ€™ wish lists, and smartphones did not emerge until 2005.
In 2012, laptop PC CPUs are three times as fast as those available in 2002; 3.0+ GHz clock speeds are widely available. Generally, 2 GB to 4 GB of RAM is availableâ€”4 to 8 times the amount in 2002â€”but high-end laptops offer as much as 8 GB. Typical hard disk drives range from 500 GB to 600 GB, some 25 times greater than laptop drives available in 2002, and new solid-state hard disk drives are significantly faster. HD displays with built-in webcams and facial recognition technology (in lieu of passwords) are a reality. DVD/RW drives are standard, and many support the high-resolution Blu-ray Disc technology for video playback. However, such accessories are being sacrificed in some models to create very thin and lightweight laptops. High-quality audio options are also increasingly common.
Ethernet data transmission speed standards have continued to evolve. Gigabit Ethernetâ€”which supports a data transmission rate of 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps)â€”became widely available during the decade, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet became certified as a standard by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). However, these standards apply to copper wire, cable (coaxial wire), and fiber optic connections. The widespread proliferation of wireless network connectivity, which accommodates the growing number of mobile devices that are available today, also occurred during the 2002â€“2012 time period. In 2012, both desktop and laptop computers typically offer wired and wireless connectivity options.
Online services (precursor to the cloud)
From a consumerâ€™s perspective, a number of online payment services were available by 2002. These services facilitated the growth of Internet commerce (e-commerce) sites such as Amazon.com and eBay, both of which had been open for business since 1995. E-commerce exploded in popularity between 2002 and 2012.
A significant phenomenon occurred during the decade that had a considerable effect on popular culture and the entertainment industry. As music and video became available as digitized computer files, they also became shareable over the Internet. Napster, perhaps the most well-known file-sharing service, emerged in 1999 and ceased trading in July 2001. However, other file-sharing models also emerged and became popular.
The growth of the Internet and the emerging availability of broadband connectivity also resulted in online services such as Rhapsody, the first streaming on-demand music subscription service for a monthly fee, which was launched in December 2001.
Although the concept of cloud computing had existed for some time, the first cloud computing services became commercially available in 2002. Since that time, more flexible options have emerged that make cloud computing more attractive and feasible for large and small organizations alike, as well as for individuals. Cloud computing architectures currently include infrastructure as a service (IaaS), which provides components such as networking and storage; platform as a service (PaaS), which provides a platform such as a database or a web server for running applications; and software as a service (SaaS), which provides a software application or solution as a finished or complete service.
In 2012 there is little disagreement about the likelihood of cloud computing as the next significant computing paradigm. The technology is gaining acceptance from many organizations and cloud computing models continue to evolve.
The origins of malware
Malware became known to many computer users through widespread infections caused by Melissa (in 1999) and LoveLetter (in 2000). Both were email-based, and LoveLetter spread via an infected email attachment. When the attachment was opened, the malware overwrote a variety of different types of files on the userâ€™s PC and emailed itself to others in the userâ€™s email address book.
LoveLetter quickly became the most costly incident of its kind to that point in time. Despite the damage that Melissa and LoveLetter caused, it could be argued that they had three positive effects: they caused computer malware to come under increasing scrutiny; they increased social awareness about computer malware (through peer pressure from many upset message recipients); and they underscored the importance of backups (because LoveLetter overwrote files which were lost if backups were not available).
A more devious and direct malware threat emerged into prominence in 2001: malware that could spread without any human interaction. One such form of malware was a worm, known as Code Red, which was released on the Internet in July of 2001 and which targeted servers running Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS). Although worms had been detected since at least 1988, Code Red was considered by Microsoft Malware Protection Center (MMPC) researchers to be a perfect example of a worm because there was no file component. Code Red needed to be detected in transit or in the memory of an infected computer; at the time, traditional desktop antimalware products that looked for file-based malware could not detect it.
Code Red spread via TCP port 80, the same channel that is commonly used for Internet web queries, so web servers needed to be secured against such attacks. However, other computers require access to port 80 for web browser functionality. Code Red may not have caused as much damage as LoveLetter, although this is difficult to ascertain because some computers infected with Code Red were subsequently infected with Win32/Nimda, which also spread via TCP port 80.
Win32/Nimda was what some call a malware cocktail, or a blended threatâ€”the start of a trend in malware development that continues to this day. It used at least five different attack vectors, including making use of backdoors left by previous malware. Because it followed so closely on the heels of such malware, not much time was available for it to be developed. Therefore, it was widely believed that Win32/Nimda was developed by a team of people, not just a solitary malware coder.
Regardless of who created it, Win32/Nimda demonstrated that if networked computers are left unprotected they can be commandeered and used against their owners in a matter of hours, perhaps even minutes. Hundreds of thousands of computers were overcome by Win32/Nimda, many of which operated well-known websites and mail servers for medium to large companies. In total, more than 50,000 important Internet sites were infected. And more than one person noted that Win32/Nimda was released on Sept. 18, just one week after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a fact that made many security experts uneasy.
In addition, 2001 saw the emergence of malware from email messages that appeared to be innocuous. Such malware emerged from messages that had no code or files attachedâ€”they used URLs instead. These messages would use social engineering tactics to entice users to click the URLs, which would then connect users to websites that were programmed with exploits designed to perform undesirable actions on the usersâ€™ PCs.
2001 also saw the emergence of Win32/Sircam, the first widespread malware that exfiltrated information from computers, although it is not known whether this was the intent of the malware. However, the Ukrainian Presidentâ€™s private itinerary was unexpectedly published publicly as a result of a Win32/Sircam infection.