Malware

Gallery: Ten computer viruses that changed the world

Brain (1986)

It's almost 25 years since the first PC computer virus left users looking at corrupted floppies, lost work and perplexing messages. In that time, the state of the art in automated malfeasance has progressed to the point that it's part of the armory of international geopolitics. Stuxnet, while still mysterious, left nobody in any doubt that viruses and worms can be used in the highest-stake game there is.

Along the way, hundreds of millions of infections have taken place, billions of dollars have been lost in productivity and broken systems, and the anti-malware industry has grown to become a significant player in the IT market. It's not over yet: perhaps it never will be, but the history of malware is a fascinating insight into the technology and culture of the digital world.

1. Brain (1986)
It sounded like science fiction, but it was all too real. Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi, a pair of software programmers from Pakistan, became annoyed at people duplicating their products and created what was supposed to be a kill switch for illicit copies. But the design was flawed; the anti-copy software could duplicate itself — and did.

The first worldwide PC virus, Brain worked by changing the boot sector of a floppy. When an infected floppy was put into a computer, it installed Brain in the computer's memory, from where it infected new floppies as they were inserted.

The brothers included their names, address and phone numbers in the virus, ostensibly to offer their services to decontaminate infected computers. They subsequently regretted this.

Photo credit: Avinash Meetoo/Wikipedia

Captions: Rupert Goodwin, ZDNet UK

10 comments
David.Len
David.Len

Most exploits have to be invited in (i.e. Melissa). But those that can kick the door down, are the worst.

Whabligone
Whabligone

who remember the dos stone virus? it was one of the first virusses i encountered in my it career with the message "your computer is now stoned"

relawson
relawson

I don't remember the day, but I do remember it started working its way through my users at 4:30pm, which was actually pretty advantageous since most people leave at 4. I even know which one of "my" users opened it first, I still rib him about it to this day. I would think koobface would have made the list, and for that matter myspace and facebook themselves ;)

Surfcr8zy
Surfcr8zy

The Adolescence of P-1, from 1977, didn't make the list? What an awesome book!

MLongfellow
MLongfellow

Seriously? AnnaKournikova.jpg.exe doesn't make the list? MS STILL hides "extensions for known file types" in an attempt to be like little bro Apple and this is still a completely valid form of email virus spreader and no mention? Sure, ILOVEYOU did it first, but Anna struck fear into the hearts of more admins worldwide than LOVE did. That was so fun to type that last sentence... :)

asterus
asterus

Chernobyl (CIH) were extremally destructive and changed completely the core building of OSes. Source: Recovery Labs. I personally think it have a great impact on computer industry due to its powerful malware capabilities.

dlovep
dlovep

IT's really suprise when you boot up with a floppy disk and the screen with 1 line showed.... is that still happen in IRAN ?

David.Len
David.Len

This is a more on point story than "When HARLIE was One". P-1 started as a virus that developed into a sentient system. P-1 was an IBM mainframe virus. I like the part of the story where a major regional power outage resulted in P-1 effectively getting a "black-out lobotomy".

relawson
relawson

after lovebug I made a serious effort to educate my users to the dangers of attachments and basically just "think before you click" in general. If memory serves, when annakournikova came around i'm pretty sure none of my users opened it. any time someone got messages I had them tell me who it was from. Many were from unexpected sources (other admins) but most were not surprising. it was killed pretty quickly by our exchange admins and it was after that when the hammer came down on attachments.