Early Data Sharing Encryption

encryptionEarly encryption was one of the cornerstones of the earliest computer security measures back in the 1980’s.  As data sharing became more and more commonplace the need for security and increases in encryption were quite obvious.

It’s interesting to see just how those programs came about and how they developed.  As Bill Gordon of We Hate Malware suggests, early encryption was probably the only reason that the internet ever came about in the first place.  Had there not been the ability to have that level of security, the internet would have been stunted – growth would have ended as the ability to safely transmit data would have been nowhere to be found.

Check out this article excerpt from 1987 on a software program called Smartcom III:

Smartcom III (from Hayes Microcomputer Products, Atlanta, Ga.) has much in common with Relay Silver. It includes a fully featured language and other sophisticated features not found in most communications programs, and it is both easy to learn and easy to use.

Smartcom’s elegantly designed user interface includes pop-up menus (like 1-2-3 and Symphony menus, they allow you to point and press Return or type the first letter) and on-line, context-sensitive help that may eliminate the need to open the manual except to learn the script language.

Smartcom’s script language can handle anything from an automatic log-on, to creating your own bulletin board, to defining terminal emulations beyond the VT-102 and VT-52 emulations provided with the program. Because we used a prerelease version of the software for this review, a set of customized script files for on-line systems, which Hayes says will be provided with the final product, were not available for us to test.

The program’s learn mode can record log-on scripts, as can several other programs; what makes Smartcom III unique is that its learn mode also encrypts your password. Even if others copy your scripts, they won’t be able to use your passwords because only your copy of the program can decrypt them.

Smartcom III is one of the few programs that can maintain simultaneous communications links on two serial ports, enabling you to upload files on one port while you download them on another. Other sophisticated features include a data-compression scheme that can cut file-transfer time and a password-protected data-encryption scheme.

Smartcom III also includes keyboard macros and several variations on Xmodem, Ymodem, and Kermit protocols. For unattended remote operation, Smartcom III acts as a Kermit server, meaning that it will work with any program that can use Kermit protocol. There is no password protection or other restriction built in to Smartcom III’s unattended remote mode, but you can create any restrictions you like using the script language.

On file-transfer times, Smartcom III did better than most of the programs tested. In the direct-connect tests, it did better than any other program for text transfer and was only bested in Xmodem transfer by those programs that could maintain higher connect rates on the particular computers used.

Be aware that Smartcom III will work only with modems that are fully Hayes-compatible. Two important minuses for Smartcom III are size and speed. The program is too large to fit on two 360K floppy disks (you’ll need a hard disk), and because it is not entirely RAM-resident, you’ll notice it pause occasionally while it reads an overlay file from disk (so make that hard disk a fast hard disk). If you want a communications program for your PC or portable computer, look elsewhere. But for an XT or better, its sophisticated script language, data compression, and security features make Smartcom III a strong contender.”

Carlton, Tom, and Marc Davidson. “Software: seven communications programs.” Lotus 3.9 (1987): 134+

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