Computer viruses and malware may seem like a relatively modern concern but malicious software has existed since the early days of computer hardware. In recent years the media has played a large role in public awareness of malware with more frequent reports on the latest cyber threats. An even greater element to the increased awareness is that computers now permeate every aspect of modern life. With the increased awareness we offer a glimpse at some historical malware that set the framework for the threats of today.
1947 – A Bug in the Machine: The very first instance of external system failure was not caused by software at all. In 1947 a Harvard researcher reported a system failure caused by a moth trapped in the system. The term “computer bug” stuck and has been used ever since.
1971 – Catch Me if You Can: The first virus created with mischievous intent was the Creeper virus. The Creeper virus was detected on ARPANET, a US military computer network which was the forerunner of the modern Internet. Systems infected with the Virus would display the message ‘I’M THE CREEPER: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.’
1981 – Apple Catches a Worm: In the early 1980’s the Apple II computer was king and its success predetermined the first wide spread virus. The Elk Cloner virus infected the boot sector for Apple II computers and spread when a blank uninfected disk was inserted. The virus delivered a payload of rotating images and messages and would impede performance. Two years later the term ‘virus’ was coined to represent self-replicating computer programs.
1987 – Seek and Destroy: The Vienna virus is notable for two reasons. First it was the first computer virus that was created to destroy computer data instead of as a joke. The virus spread around the world and was the first threat to attract major public attention. The virus was notable for another reason; shortly after its appearance technician Bernt Fix was successful in finding a way to neutralize the virus. This was the first precursor to the modern antivirus.
1990 – Polymorphic Spree: The Chameleon family of computer viruses was the first instances of a virus that would change and adapt every time it infected a new computer. Chameleon did not have a permanent source of code which made the creation of a reliable antivirus a high priority.
1998 – Broken Windows: Virus attacks on MS Windows, MS Office and various network applications run rampant and allow thieves to gain access to passwords and control computers remotely. Infections grew to the point that The New York Times ran an article late that year to warn users about threats that would now spread by email.
2003 – A Global Affair: Two global internet attacks were broadcast in 2003 that would be called the worst in the history of the internet. The Slammer and Lovesan internet worms spread fast and made use of vulnerabilities in MS SQL and the RPC DCOM service working under Windows 2000/XP. The worms revealed just how vulnerable the Windows operating systems were and put nearly every internet user at risk.
2009 – A Fool in April: The Conficker computer worm attracted more media attention than almost any malware program in history and prompted the attention of Homeland Security. The Conficker worm spread quickly and has resulted in an estimated 12 million computer infections worldwide. Since its creation the Conficker worm has evolved into five different versions and remains a threat even today.
Now – Back to the Future: It is unlikely that computer malware will cease to be a problem in the near future and so it’s important now more than ever to be prepared. Prompt security patches combined with a strong antivirus and firewalls are a necessity to protect your systems. Learn from the past and you can be protected in the future.
– Richard Keene
IT Computer Support of New York
Design and Optimization Department