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The Evolution of Computers: Key Resources (July 2013): Covert Computing and Computer Security

By Kyle D. Winward

Covert Computing and Computer Security

As noted in the section about Alan Turing, in some cases national security policy may prohibit due recognition of innovations until many years after they have been achieved.  This is addressed in Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park’s Codebreaking Computers, edited by B. Jack Copeland, which contains a collection of memoirs about the British Colossus codebreaking computers.  Focused less on computer engineering and programming and more on oppositional government systems and covert computer initiatives during the Cold War era is Steven Usdin’s Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley.  Usdin details Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant’s efforts to build the equivalent of Silicon Valley in a super-secret research center in the former Soviet Union.

In From Whirlwind to MITRE: The R&D Story of the SAGE Air Defense Computer, Kent Redmond and Thomas Smith discuss how large-scale computer environments, such as the U.S. Air Force SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) radar array, continued to be utilized into the early 1980s.  However, there were some obvious exceptions to these large computers, such as the NASA Apollo guidance computer, which at three by five feet and approximately seventy pounds, was a small computer for the time period.  In Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight, David Mindell describes in extensive detail the events that led up to, and the implementation of, the guidance computer, including the watershed decision to go with the MIT-designed digital computer as the primary computer to control multiple systems.  Frank O’Brien’s The Apollo Guidance Computer: Architecture and Operation is similar in scope to Digital Apollo but with a computer science programming focus and additional information about the computer challenges involved in individual missions.

Steven Levy’s two books, Hackers and Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government, Saving Privacy in the Digital Age, describe the engineers and others who were instrumental in developing and debugging software programs and successfully integrated encryption into commercial World Wide Web sites.  Public-key cryptography, which facilitated secure private communication, as well as eight other watershed algorithmic developments, including Google’s PageRank, are featured in the highly readable Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today’s Computers by John MacCormick.  Also highly recommended is Clifford Stoll’s The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy through the Maze of Computer Espionage.  Stoll dramatically recounts the dramatic international spy ring that he helped track down while a manager at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.