The Internet during the Cold War

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The development of ways to interconnect computers in the United States was heavily affected by needs and demands arising from the Cold War. The system of networked computers known as ARPANET, in service from the late 1960s to 1990, was under military control. ARPANET laid the technical foundations for the present-day Internet.


During the Cold War, the fear of nuclear attack from the Soviet Union progressed to a general sentiment among American academics and government that the United States was falling behind in terms of technological achievement, which was cemented in the wake of the USSR's launch of Sputnik in 1957[1]. To ensure that a Soviet nuclear attack would be infeasible and to ensure American technological supremacy, the ARPANET was created by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later DARPA), a branch of the military that developed top secret systems and weapons[2]. Although the modern-day Internet differs significantly from ARPANET, the connection between the two has lead to the Internet sometimes being called 'The Cold War's Child'[3].


Four computers were the first connected in the original ARPANET. They were located in the respective computer research labs of UCLA, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah.[4] ARPANET protected the flow of information between military installations by creating a network of geographically separated computers that could exchange information via a newly developed protocol (rule for how computers interact) called NCP (Network Control Protocol).[5] One opposing view to ARPANET's origins comes from Charles M. Herzfeld, the former director of ARPA.[5] Herzfeld claimed that ARPANET was not created as a result of a military need. He felt that the frustration from investigators across the country of only having a limited number of supercomputers for research caused them to create ARPANET so that they could be connected while in different locations throughout the country.[4] This made it easier to communicate the possible nuclear threats. However, as early as the mid 1980s, Soviet intelligence had access to Western computer networks.[6]

Effects of ARPANET[edit]

New connections were soon added to the network, bringing the number of "nodes" up to 23 in 1971, 111 in 1977, and up to almost 4 million in 1994.[7] The invention and development of the ARPANET directly led to the development of the internet we know of today. As the size of the network grew so did its capabilities. In its first 25 years the Internet added features such as file transfer, email, Usenet news, and eventually HTML.[7] Now, new developments are added to the Net at a rapid rate. The explosive growth of the internet has involved millions of computer users all over the world and has led to the constant development of new technologies that require network transfer.[8]


  1. ^ "Sputnik and the Origins of the Space Age". Retrieved 2020-11-09.
  2. ^ "ARPANET | Definition & History". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-11-09.
  3. ^ "HistoryWiz: The Cold War Internet". Retrieved 2020-11-09.
  4. ^ a b "The Invention of the Internet". History
  5. ^ a b Bells, Mary, Inventors of the Modern Computer.
  6. ^ Computerworld - "Soviets possess access to Western data bases", Mitch Betts
  7. ^ a b Birth of the Internet.
  8. ^ Booker, Ellis, "Big Data's Surprising Uses: From Lady Gaga To CIA". Information Week, 17 December 2012.