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Internet Time-Line Part 2

1970 onwards

Related Threads
The 1970s Computer networks grow rapidly not just in the US but also in UK and Europe. Academic and corporate networks also grow. 1970s:1

1969: Sharing resources

1970: 1 node per month

1970 Bob Kahn and Dave Walden test the limits of the IMPs by inducing congestion on the network of 4 nodes, aided by Vint Cerf, Steve Crocker and Jon Postel. Frank Heart at BBN (an IMP contractor) instructs Will Crowther to work with Kahn to fix the problems. Overall the network experiment is a success. "The unique way in which ARPA went about its business and its relationship with its contractor worked too." 1970:1

The movie M*A*S*H, a black comedy about war, is released.

1967: The first IMP

1969: The first ARPA network

Below: Remote IMP monitoring

1969: Vietnam War

Below: Anti-war protestors

March 1970

continental link

UCLA is connected to BBN Cambridge, Massachusetts, via a new 50-kilobit line. This is the first transcontinental link which is "also an immediate boon to network maintenance and troubleshooting" 1970:2

The BBN team is able to do monitoring, maintenance and fix problems remotely, with the capability built into the IMPs' design 1970:3

1969: The first ARPA network

Below: Network Control Centre

The ARPANET is growing at a rate of one new node every month. 1970:4

Next to go online are:

  • MIT
  • RAND
  • System Development Corp
  • Harvard

AT&T installs cross-country 50-kilobit links between BBN and RAND, and between MIT and Uni of Utah. These are followed by more 50-kilobit links. 1970:5

1970s: Network growth

1971: Not enough traffic

Network Control Centre IMPs have to report to the Network Control Centre at BBN every minute to confirm that they are alive. 1970:6
Above: Remote monitoring

Below: IMP software propagation

November 1970

Network goes operational

Network Control Centre

Alex McKenzie, convinced that the network is now ready to upgrade from experimental to operational, is appointed by Frank Heart to take charge of the Network Control Centre; his opinion was that the network should be run like "an electrical utility".

The NCC is moved into a new BBN building designed like a fortress against possible attacks by anti-war protesters


Above: M*A*S*H released

Below: NCC expands

The IMPs begin to download new operating software via a distributive propagation in which "every IMP downloaded the software from a neighbour". An IMP can also restore its own operating system this way, in case of damage. 1970:8
TIP (Terminal IMP) Larry Roberts and Frank Heart's team discuss ways to enable terminals to connect directly with IMPs. This would open up the community to casual users, further realizing Licklider's vision. The terminals would connect via dial-up lines, and the device to host them would be called a Terminal IMP, or TIP. The first TIP can handle up to 64 terminals. 1970:9
1967: The first IMP

1950s: Licklider's vision

1973: IMP source code

BBN begins to explore connecting peripheral terminal devices to the network. The Network Control Centre expands with the network and is staffed round the clock 1970:10
FTP and Telnet BBN begins to sit in with the NWG to work on the host-to-host protocol, FTP and Telnet. "It was TIPs and Telnet together that paved the way for rapid expansion of the network".

FTP would be "the first application to permit two machines to cooperate as peers instead of treating one as a terminal to the other".


1969: NWG's Telnet

1971: NCP

1972 E-mail programme released with FTP



Intel introduces the microprocessor. 1971:1

1965: Minicomputer

1972: Pocket calculator

1980s: RISC chip

Not enough traffic! The ARPANET is carrying an average of 675,000 packets a day, less than 2% of its capacity of 30 million packets a day. "[A] program could be moved around the network at such a speed as to approximate real time" 1971:2
1970: 1 node per month

1973: More traffic

DARPA gives up ARPANET DARPA doesn't want to run the ARPANET any more as it has completed its computer research mission, and running the network is draining its resources. Larry Roberts (who is in charge of the ARPANET project) wants to sell it to a private contractor, and asks AT&T to see if they are interested. AT&T could have monopolized the ARPANET, but they decide that packet-switching is incompatible with circuit-switching. 1971:3
Around 1959: AT&T not interested

1972: AT&T still not impressed

1973: DCA takes over running ARPANET

NCP A basic protocol, the Network Control Protocol (NCP) emerges. 1971:4 1974: TCP paper


Pocket calculator

The first pocket calculator is introduced in the UK. 1972:1
1971: Microprocessor

1975: Portable computer

Secret files Public outcry erupts over the US Army's "information-gathering" on suspected civilian troublemakers in the political unrest in the late '60s. The files are ordered to be destroyed immediately. 1972:2 1975: Allegations
E-mail (between 2 machines) Ray Tomlinson at BBN engages the first e-mail delivery between 2 machines.

His scheme consists of 2 separate programmes, SNDMSG and READMAIL. Although technically trivial, the experiment is a historical breakthrough. This is the guy responsible for the @ sign.

Tomlinson's programmes are released on the ARPANET in the same package as Abhay Bhushan's newly finalised file-transfer protocol (FTP).


1960s: E-mail (single machine)

1973: RD



ARPA demonstrates the network at the first International Conference on Computer Communication in Washington (ICCC). During a demonstration to AT&T officials, the computers crash, and the officials dismiss packet-switching as non-viable.

Nevertheless, the conference proves that packet-switching works at the national level. This is attested by overseas network people such as Donald Davies from UK and Louise Pouzin (see next paragraph) from France, who also attended the conference. There is a consensus that the next step will be an international network.


1971: AT&T doesn't give a dinkin' datagram

1993: Now AT&T wants in

French Cyclades Packet-switching network projects in France and England are successful. Louis Pouzin builds Cyclades, "a French version of the ARPANET".


The leaders of several national networking projects form the International Network Working Group (INWG). INWG produces the CATENET (Concatenated Network), "a transparent interconnection of networks of disparate technologies and speeds".


1969: NWG
Roberts' radio packet network Larry Roberts outlines a scheme based on the ALOHANET, this time with mobile computers. The army is intrigued, and experiments with wireless, distributed packet networks. Years later, the program is phased out due to technical expenses. 1972:6

1973: Internetting project

SATNET However, the wireless experiment leads to SATNET in the 1970s, a satellite network between America and Europe. SATNET does well, until transatlantic phone cables are upgraded from copper to fibre-optics. 1972:7
1960: Satellite phone

1973: Ethernet

1985: fibre optics

ARPA renamed DAPRA ARPA has been renamed DARPA (D for Defense) to reflect its commitment to defence research. 1972:8


DCA runs ARPANET for now

Sale of the ARPANET to TELENET (a subsidiary of BBN to market a private packet-switching service) falls through due to a conflict of interest (Larry Roberts is leaving DARPA's Information and Techniques Processing Office to join TELENET and thus cannot "recommend the sale by the government"). ARPANET is temporarily transferred to the Defense Communications Agency (DCA). 1973:1
1971: DARPA doesn't want ARPANET

DCA officially takes over ARPANET

IMP source code BBN refuses to release the IMP source code, effectively limiting IMP maintenance and repair to BBN personnel only. DARPA has to threaten to divert $6 million in contracts away from BBN. BBN relents and distributes the source code for a small fee. This represents one of the first cases of serious issues related to intellectual property. 1973:2

1967: The first IMP

Below: Ethernet

Internetting Project ARPA gives birth to the Internetting Project to link Larry Roberts' packet radio network to the ARPANET. 1973:3
1972: Packet radio network

1974: TCP paper

Gateways Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn come up with the idea of gateway routing computers to negotiate between the various national networks. 1973:4

This leads to the 1974 paper, "A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication"

1971: NCP

1974: TCP paper

Net traffic Meanwhile, traffic on the ARPANET has grown to "a daily average of 3.2 million packets" 1973:5
1971: Not enough traffic

1973-75: ARPANET expands

RD Larry Roberts writes the first e-mail managing software called RD. People take to it instantly. Soon variations of RD proliferate. 1973:6
1972: E-mail between 2 machines

1975: MSG

March 1973


ARPANET News by SRI (Standford Research Institute) is born — a newsletter distributed on paper and electronic form.
USING A lobby group called USING, comprising net users, draws up "plans and recommendations for improving the delivery of computer services over the ARPANET". Nine months later, DARPA sends out a warning that they are overstepping boundaries, and the group dies off eventually.



Alto personal computer

Bob Metcalfe at Xerox PARC develops the Ethernet.

Metcalfe was inspired while working to improve the ALOHANET. The technology is developed for one of the first personal computers, the Alto from Xerox PARC, without the need for expensive IMPs. In an Ethernet, machines talk to each other like humans: when more than one tries to talk at the same time, someone will randomly go first, while the rest wait for it to finish.



1967: The first IMP

1981: IBM PC

1973-75 The ARPANET expands at a rate of one new node every month. Network access becomes more open. 1973:9

Contracting for computer services on the ARPANET has become cost-saving due to economy of scale. Large databases are becoming popular. 1973:10

1973: Net traffic

Early '80s: Hundreds of networks


TCP paper

Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf write a paper called "A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication" describing transmission-control protocol (TCP), essentially a method incorporating a digital envelope (a datagram) to send messages.

Whereas NCP (network control protocol) was designed for the ARPANET, TCP is a "more independent protocol" needed for linking ARPANET, SATNET and Larry Roberts' packet radio network. The paper also introduces the notion of gateways, which would read only the envelope so that only the receiving hosts would read the contents.

TCP also makes network transmission more reliable because the sending host has to receive acknowledgment from the receiving host to verify the transmission. 1974:1

1971: NCP

1973: Internetting project

1973: Gateways

1977: TCP works

At around this time, the NSF raises the issue of building an academic network. 1974:2

1979: CSNET proposal


Portable computer

US Altair produces the first portable computer. 1975:1
1972: Pocket calculator

1979: Videotext

DCA takes over ARPANET The DCA (Defense Communications Agency) takes over the running of ARPANET. The is because federal law requires that ARPANET cannot be sold to an external party before checking to see if the Defense Department wants it. The guys at BBN complain of the increased red tape. 1975:2
1973: DCA runs ARPANET

1989: ARPANET retires

TCP specifications Yogen Dalal at Stanford takes Kahn and Cerf's 1974 paper and comes up with implementable specifications for TCP. 1975:3
1974: TCP paper
Secret files Allegations surface that the files that were supposed to have been destroyed by the US Army in 1973 had instead been archived on the ARPANET. The story is reported in "the most draconian, cloak-and-dagger terms". The public is outraged that something like ARPANET existed. DARPA is called to account. Old print-outs reveal that the Army was responsible, but now DARPA is perceived to be in bed with the Army's secret operations. 1975:4
1972: Files ordered to be destroyed
MSG John Vittal writes the MSG mailing programme which has an ANSWER command, making it easy to reply to e-mails. People won't have to retype or mistype e-mail addresses. MSG is the original 'killer application' that made e-mail popular, and is still in use in the 1990s.

"More than just a great hack, MSG was the best proof to date that on the ARPANET rules might get made, but they certainly didn't prevail. Proclamations of officialness didn't further the Net nearly so much as throwing technology out on the Net to see what worked. And when something worked, it was adopted."


1973: RD

1977: Header wars

1982: SMTP


Public-key encryption

Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman at Stanford University invent public-key encryption, realising that it will empower the masses. They publish the paper "New Directions in Cryptography".

Diffie and Hellman's scheme does not require the key to first pass through a secure channel. Each party has a secret key. They exchange mathematical information about each other's key to create a session key which can be used to encrypt future messages. The scheme requires real-time communications and thus cannot be used for e-mail.


1957: 4th Amendment

1977: DES approved

1977: RSA


Quasar robot

A private American company, Quasar Industries, launches a robot selling for $4000 which is claimed to be able to do anything a domestic maid could do, and more, including "teach the kids French". Artificial intelligence researchers recognize the robot as a fraud and speak out openly on the ARPANET. The robot is in fact remote-controlled during public demonstrations.

Some users realize that the ARPANET is now being used for personal communication that contain potentially libellous speech. They begin to practise and encourage self-censorship, or using disclaimers, for fear of attracting government supervision of ARPANET.

"What emerged from the debate was strong evidence that the networking community felt a deep stake in the creation of the Net, ARPA funding or no ARPA funding, and was trying jealously to guard its right to determine its future. In a realm where, in a sense, personal identity is defined entirely by the words people choose, free speech seemed second only to concern for the survival of the realm itself."


NSA approves DES NSA approves and publishes a weakened version of DES (Data Encryption Standard), a secret key encryption scheme requiring the key to first pass through a secure channel. The DES is not allowed to be exported outside the US. 1977:2
1952: Truman forms NSA; NSA's 701

1976: Public-key encryption

1991: NSA interests in encryption

RSA encryption Meanwhile, three young professors at MIT receive the Diffie-Hellman paper, and implement a workable public-key encryption system. The system is called RSA, named after Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir and Len Adelman.

Scientific American offers a reward of $100 for anyone who could decrypt a sentence code in the form of a 129-digit number encrypted with RSA. It won't be until 17 years later in 1994 that the code is cracked.


1976: Diffie & Hellman

1991: Zimmerman's PGP

1994: Code broken

MODEM Ward Christensen writes the programme "MODEM" and releases it into the public domain. MODEM allows two microcomputers to exchange files with each other over a phone line, using modems with acoustic couplers. 1977:4 1978: CBBS & CommuniTree

1979: XMODEM

May 1977

Header wars

Mail headers are getting out of hand. Some headers were as long as 35 lines. Ken Pogran, John Vittal, Dave Crocker and Austin Anderson announce RFC 724 (RFC = Request For Comment), a proclamation of a new e-mail standard.

It is titled "A Proposed Official Standard for the Format of ARPA Network Messages". The standard contains specifications pertaining to syntax, semantics and "lexical formalities".

Responses to RFC 724 are not enthusiastic. Jon Postel criticizes the standard for its claim to being "official". Alex McKenzie at BBN says that the ARPANET does not work on official standards, but perfects itself by trial and cooperation in an process of "step-by-step evolution". RFCs should thus play only the role of documenting such steps.


1969: the first RFC

Nov 1977: RFC 724

1983: DNS proposal

1988: OSI protocol

July 1977

TCP works

Cerf, Kahn and others link up 3 networks using TCP: packet radio, ARPANET and SATNET. Messages travel 94,000 miles from San Francisco to London to California "without dropping a single bit". 1977:6
1974: the TCP paper

1978: Internet Protocol

November 1977 RFC 724 is re-written and published as RFC 733, now intended "strictly as a definition". Mail programs start to conform to the new guidelines, but within a year, conflicts pick up again. The problem is that the standard is incompatible with John Vittal's popular MSG mailing program. 1977:7
1975: MSG

Above: Header wars


Magnetic tape

The first magnetic tape is introduced by US Oyz. 1978:1
TCP/IP Inspired by Xerox PARC's PARC Universal Packet (PUP), Cerf, Postel and Danny Cohen come up with Internet Protocol (IP) by isolating the part of TCP which deals with routing packets. IP will be in charge of routing the packets, while TCP will take care of the packeting, error control, re-transmission and reassembly. TCP/IP enables fast and inexpensive gateways to be built. 1978:2
1977: TCP works

1983: The switch to TCP/IP



Ward Christensen and Randy Suess create the first BBS, Computer Bulletin Board System (CBBS) in Chicago, and tell people how to start their own BBSes. 1978:3

In Santa Cruz, California, the CommuniTree BBS goes online with a vision to build a spiritual community. Eventually, the BBS gets choked to death by antisocial teenaged students, causing A.R. Stone to conclude: "Thus, in practice, surveillance and control proved necessary adjuncts to maintaining order in the virtual community." 1978:4

A BBS distributes messages over phone lines between users on personal computers equipped with modems. The communication is independent of the Internet. BBS software is inexpensive, and anyone with a personal computer, a modem and a phone line can start one.

1973: Xerox's Alto, the 1st personal computer

1977: MODEM

1983: Fido BBS



British Telecom launches the first videotext information system. 1979:1
1975: Portable computer
CSNET proposal NSF receives a proposal to build the CSNET (Computer Science Research Network) is submitted by a group of universities, initiated by Larry Landweber at the University of Wisconsin.

CSNET will be independent of the ARPANET (due to defence security restrictions), and will be cheaper to build, using slower links and no redundancy. ARPANET has been expensive to subscribe, and computer science research is falling behind due to lack of computer networking. Universities need a network to stay competitive and to train the next generation of computer scientists.

NSF rejects the proposal but remains enthusiastic.


1974: NSF network idea

1980: 3-tier CSNET

XMODEM Keith Peterson and Ward Christensen release XMODEM, a new file transfer protocol with error-correction, based on MODEM. 1979:3
1977: MODEM

The 1980s

RISC chip

Intel develops the RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) chip. 1980s:1
1971: Microprocessor

1981: IBM PC

Early 1980s Non-military networks join the Internet. 1980s:2

A couple hundred networks are wired up. 1980s:3

1973-75: ARPANET expands

1986: Global Internet



Landweber's committee comes up with a new proposal for CSNET, with a 3-tier structure (ARPANET, TELENET and an e-mail only network called PHONENET) to provide cheap access for everyone. The tiers are connected by gateways. The National Science Board (NSF's umbrella body) agrees to provide $5 million for CSNET. 1980:1

1979: CSnet proposal

1983: CSnet blossoms

USENET USENET is started by graduate students as a link between University of North Carolina and Duke University. It eventually blossoms into a distributed news network using UUCP. 1980:2 1986: other networks



IBM introduces the desktop microcomputer, the IBM-PC 1981:1
1971: Microprocessor

1984: Apple Mac; CD-ROM

Berkeley UNIX Bill Joy at Berkeley writes a version of UNIX with TCP/IP. 1981:2 1982: Sun distributes UNIX


Sun distributes TCP/IP

Bill Joy from Berkeley joins the new Sun (Stanford University Network) Microsystems as a UNIX expert. The first Sun workstations come with Joy's UNIX with TCP/IP for free. This would be an important factor in the entrenchment of TCP/IP. 1982:1
1981: Berkeley UNIX

1988: OSI protocol

SMTP So far, e-mail has been riding on FTP. Jon Postel decides to build a separate mechanism for mail transfer, calling it SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). It has new features and will be implemented together with the impending switch to TCP/IP. 1982:2
1975: MSG

1983: Switch to TCP/IP


Switch to TCP/IP

On January 1st, ARPANET makes its official transition to TCP/IP. The network can now branch anywhere, and network data transfer is a piece of cake.

For security reasons, the Defense Communications Agency splits the ARPANET into

  • MILNET for sites carrying military information
  • ARPANET for the research community

The two networks are connected by a gateway, so users can't tell the difference.


1978: TCP/IP

1982: SMTP

1989: ARPANET retires

Esprit Esprit (European Strategic Programme for Research and Information Technology) is established by the EEC to coordinate the European Information Technology industry. 1983:2
DNS proposal Jon Postel, Paul Mockapetris (ISI) and Craig Partridge (BBN) publish two RFCs describing the Domain Name System (DNS) using tree-branching structure and specific-to-general addressing. "Eventually, a committee agreed on seven 'top-level' domains: edu, com, gov, mil, net, org and int." They stand for:
  • edu = university
  • com = company
  • gov= government
  • mil = military
  • org = non-profit organization
  • net = network service provider
  • int = international treaty entity


1977: Standardising e-mail headers

1986: DNS summit

More than 70 CSNET sites are online. 1983:4
1980: 3-tier structure

1986: CSNET success

Fido BBS Standard modem speed is 300 bps, slower than the average human reading speed, and modems are still quite expensive — around US$500. The BBS is still an exclusive technical hobby.

Tom Jennings, a visitor of CBBS, creates Fido BBS. Flames are common, but Jennings leaves it to users to deal with them. His philosophy: "Thou shalt not offend; thou shalt not be easily offended." Fido has been described as having a "street" atmosphere, and will later expand into Fidonet.


1978: CBBS & CommuniTree

1984: Fidos proliferate


Apple Macintosh; CD-ROM; cyberspace

Apple introduces the Macintosh with mouse and window interface. The CD-ROM is introduced as data-storage device. 1984:1

William Gibson publishes Neuromancer, in which he coins the word cyberspace.

1981: IBM PC
Fidos proliferate Tom Jennings helps one of his users create a version of his Fido BBS software for another computer platform. The system files can now be downloaded by users, and as a result, Fido BBSes proliferate. 1984:2
1983: the 1st Fido

1985: Fidonet


Transputer; fibre optics

Inmos (UK) manufactures the transputer, a microprocessor with integral memory designed for parallel processing.

In the US, fibre optics are first used to link mainframe computers.


1972: fibre optic links

1986: Superconductors



With the availabilty of affordable 1200 bps modems, it is no longer prohibitively expensive to echo e-mails over long-distances late at night when phone rates are lowest. Tom Jennings assigns each Fido BBS with a unique node number, and Fido BBSes across America begin to observe the "National Fido Hour" from 1 to 2 am nightly when the BBSes call each other up to echo e-mails.

At around this time, the introduction of Echomail in Fidonet makes it possible for conferences between many users, instead of simply one to one.

Fidonet continues to grow.


1984: Fidos proliferate

1986: Fidonet rides on Internet

NSF backbone 5 supercomputer centres are scattered throughout the US, and the NSF agrees to build a backbone to link them together. NSF offers free access to the backbone network (called NSFNET) if geographical regions build for themselves community networks. As a result, community networks begin to sprout, including:
  • NYSERNET: New York State Educational Research Network
  • CERFnet: California Educational Research Network (in honour of Vint Cerf)


Networks can now choose between connecting with ARPANET or NSFNET. NSFNET soon becomes more popular as it is faster and easier to connect with. 1985:4

1986: CSNET success

1989: ARPANET retires


Networks ahoy = Internet!

Nearly all computer science departments and many private computer research sites in the US are connected to CSNET. The CSNET success parallels other networks:
  • BITNET (Because It's Time Network), an IBM network open to all
  • UUCP at Bell Labs for file transfer and remote execution
  • NASA's SPAN (Space Physics Analysis Network).

All these networks communicate with TCP/IP and as a result come to be collectively called the Internet.


(Presumabely, all these networks have gateways to the NSF backbone.)

1983: CSNET grows

1980: USENET

1985: NSF backbone

Global Internet Other countries have their own networks too:
  • Several academic service networks in Europe
  • CDNet in Canada
  • The JANET (Joint Academic Network) in the UK 1986:2

Eventually these networks build gateways to the US Internet, and the Internet comes to mean the international network. National boundaries begin to dissolve. 1986:3

1980s: Hundreds of networks

Early '90s: Network numbers

NSF takes over Internet The NSF (National Science Foundation) takes over Internet responsibility from DARPA. 1986:4 1989: ARPANET retires
IBM labs in Zurich discover high-temperature superconductors with potential for superconducting computers in the future. 1986:5
1985: Transputer
DNS summit Representatives from major networks meet on the West Coast for a grand summit meeting, and agree to use DNS. 1986:6
1983: DNS proposal
Interop Dan Lynch starts the Interop trade show to promote TCP/IP. It is attended by hardcore networking people for the first couple of years. 1986:6 1989: Internet attracts business
Fidonet piggybacks on Internet At around this time, Tim Pozar at SRI (Stanford Research Institute) begins working on a scheme to distribute Fidonet e-mail globally over the Internet. In other words, the Internet acts as a link between Fidonet nodes in different parts of the world. Ken Harrington at SRI provides administrative and finanial support. 1986:7
1985: Fidonet


OSI protocol

The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) produces the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) protocol. US and European government adopt it as the official standard, but it never catches on because TCP/IP was there first and, more importantly, has proven itself. 1988:1

TCP/IP is also very open: it can support all sorts of networks. Another reason for TCP/IP's success is the support by UNIX. 1988:2

1977: RFC 724

1978: TCP/IP

1982: Sun's Berkeley UNIX


Internet draws business

Dan Lynch's Interop trade show attracts business people including "Novell, Synoptics, and Network General". The Internet is starting to appeal to the business world.

Its success provided an object lesson in technology and how it advances. "Standards should be discovered, not decreed," said one computer scientist in the TCP/IP faction.


1986: The 1st Interop

1977: RFC 724

ARPANET retires Mark Pullen, a program manager at DARPA, retires the ARPANET, since the much faster NSFNET has taken over as the major backbone. ARPANET is 20 years old. 1989:2

1985: NSF backbone

Early 1990s Wired networks number over 7,500 worldwide, reaching people in more than 75 countries. 1990s:1
1986: Global Internet

1990: Internet users

1991: E-commerce

1990 Internet users are estimated to number 5 to 10 million. 1990:1
1990s: No. of networks

1995: No. of users



The National Science Foundation (NSF) lifts restrictions against commercial use of the Internet. Electronic commerce on the Net is now possible. Some of the early founders of the Net bemoan this, while others welcome it. 1991:1
1990s: Wired figures

1993: NSF contracts out Net admin functions

PGP 1.0 Phil Zimmerman releases the PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encrypting programme, essentially an amalgamation of the Diffie-Hellman algorithm, RSA and standard secret key encryption. The program finds it way to Usenet.

PGP incorporates a digital signature and can be used with e-mail. PGP-encoded messages are virtually uncrackable by today's computers. PGP has become the de facto standard for e-mail encryption.

Unable to get a licence for the RSA algorithm, and with an impending ban on strong cryptography, Zimmerman releases PGP 1.0, knowing that it is illegal.

1976: Diffie and Hellman

1977: RSA

Below: PGP 2.0

1993: The charge - munitions exports

RSA threatens to sue unless Zimmerman stops distributing PGP. Although he complies, the programme and its source code are already circulating on the Net. 1991:3
PGP attracts attention from the National Security Agency (NSA) — part of the US Defence Department in charge of encryption. NSA believes that encryption should only be used by the government to fight crime and win wars. 1991:4
1977: NSA's DES

1991: FBI's Digital Telephony

PGP 2.0 The combined effort of supporters from the Netherlands, New Zealand, France and Spain results in PGP 2.0. NSA gets really pissed off by the fact that the technology is in foreign hands. 1991:5
Above: PGP 1.0
Apple Powerbook Apple releases the Powerbook laptop microcomputer, able to function as a desktop. 1991:6


Digital Telephony Bill

The FBI drafts the Digital Telephony bill to counter the loss of eavesdropping capability as new technology arrives.

Essentially, they want wire-tapping capability to be built into communications infrastructure. Without support in Congress and with strong civil opposition, the bill dies.


1991: NSA on PGP

1994: Digital Telephony Law

1993 The NSF announces that it will assign 3 major administrative functions to private corporations. They are:
  • Internet address registration ("thus acting as a gateway or potential chokepoint for determining exactly which sites are granted permission to join the high-speed network"), assigned to Network Solutions.
  • Directory and database services ("keeping track of how to locate people and resources"), assigned to AT&T.
  • Informational services provided to Net users ("modernization of tools for making use of the Internet"), assigned to General Atomics.


1991: NSF deregulates e-commerce

1972: AT&T laughs at packet-switching

Fall 1993

Zimmerman's legal woes

The US government represented by assistant attorney William Keane tries to decide whether Zimmerman should be charged with exporting munitions without a licence. 1993:2
1991: PGP

1996: Charges dropped


Digital Telephony Law

Digital Telephony is legislated. It requires phone companies to re-wire their networks so that the FBI can tap in. Civil rights supporters like Senator Leahy and the Electronic Freedom Foundation work to delete on-line information services from the legislation. Court orders are also required.

The civil rights supporters include AT&T, DEC, Lotus, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.


1991: Digital Telephony bill

Below: Clipper chip

Clipper chip Meanwhile, the Clinton Administration’s proposed Clipper chip faces widespread opposition from academics and civil rights groups and dies eventually of technical flaws.

The Clipper chip is developed by the NSA and is an encryption scheme in which the government would hold a key in escrow to all encrypted data.


1991: Digital Telephony bill
DES in foriegn hands A study by the Software Publisher’s Association reveals that although the US closely guards DES, there are 152 DES-based products being developed and distributed by 33 foreign countries, and the foreign versions are in fact superior to the American version.


1977: DES

1991: NSA fumes over PGP

Code broken Back in 1976, Scientific American offered a reward to decrypt an RSA code. An international team from 24 countries finally takes 8 months and 1600 workstations to crack the code. 1994:3
1977: the RSA challenge

1995 There are 30 to 40 million Internet users in the world (estimated). 1995:1
1990: No. of users


January 1996

The US government gives up prosecuting Zimmerman for releasing PGP. Investigations are officially closed. No reasons are given, but it could be due to the legal difficulties of charging Zimmerman (raising First Amendment issues) and his strong team of legal defence. 1996:1
1993: The charge

For the latest development on cryptography issues:

End of Internet Time-line

Last updated: 10 May 1997