Jeepers Creepers: The Rise of Digital Forensics Since the 1970s


Jeepers Creepers: The Rise of Digital Forensics Since the 1970s


Welcome to the first edition of “Jeepers Creepers: The History of Digital Forensics!” the fascinating, sometimes scary, always interesting history of digital forensics!
This is your place to join us as we explore the fascinating, sometimes scary, and still-growing world of digital forensics! Don’t get too worried- it’s a wild ride, but industry veteran and testifying expert Andy Reisman of Repario will be here to help you every step of the way! Read on for our first edition, where Andy explores the FIRST foray into what would become digital forensics work!


One can argue that digital forensics traces its origin back to an experimental cat and mouse game between two early pioneers of modern computing. This article discusses development of what became known as the first computer virus and antivirus software, and explores how that helped shape our modern data security landscape and the need for skilled digital forensic experts.


Introduction to The Creeper

Threats to computer data security literally had a creepy beginning. The first program developed to autonomously spread across computer networks was “The Creeper”, which Bob Thomas of BBN Technologies developed in the early 1970s. Unlike modern malware, The Creeper was relatively benign, simply causing the message “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!” to appear on computer screens.

Game On: The Reaper

Like Newton’s third law of motion, development of The Creeper caused an equal opposite reaction. Ray Tomlinson, who famously developed the first email program, designed a program named “The Reaper” to move through computer networks finding instances of The Creeper and removing them.


Implications for Data Security and Digital Forensics

The Creeper and The Reaper had obvious implications for what would become a massive cybersecurity industry, but also played a foundational role in the evolution of the digital forensics field. The Creeper demonstrated that software could perform actions that had potentially significant consequences on networked computers, and The Reaper demonstrated that people could develop tools to track such actions across computer systems. More fundamentally, The Creeper and its progeny raised awareness regarding the need for systems to monitor and log activity, evidence that analysts frequently must examine to determine the nature and extent of potential computer misuse.

Takeaway: The Need for Skilled Digital Forensics Experts

The scope of potential computer misconduct, and the digital forensic techniques needed in response, is vastly more complicated than Bob Thomas or Ray Tomlinson ever could have envisioned in the 1970s. Today, practically everyone carries a phone more powerful than the largest supercomputers of that era. We can access data from our organizations’ networks from virtually anywhere and send it near-instantaneously to various storage locations beyond our employers’ reach. We have achieved amazing efficiencies with their terrifying implications for data security, with Newton’s third law of motion working overtime.

Today, no single piece of software can provide all of the answers in the way The Reaper was able to take on The Creeper. The variety of devices and accounts capable of storing and transmitting data has grown exponentially. Skilled digital forensic practitioners can help identify and preserve electronically stored evidence, and piece together what happened when, how. The best such experts translate such complexities into a clear narrative easily digestible by even the most technophobic finders of fact. Bottom line, you often can overcome a creepy start by reaping the benefits of hiring the right digital forensics team.


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