The 18 scariest computer viruses of all time
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Anna Kournikova (2001)
The Anna Kournikova virus is so named because it tricked its recipients into thinking they were downloading a sexy picture of the tennis star. Financial damages associated with Kournikova were limited, but the virus had a big pop culture impact: It became a plot point in a 2002 episode of the sitcom Friends.
For more IT nightmares, check out The 10 scariest cloud outages (and lessons learned from them) from our sister site ZDNet.
In April 2004, Microsoft issued a patch for a vulnerability in Windows’ Local Security Authority Subsystem Service (LSASS). Shortly after, a teenager in Germany released the Sasser worm to exploit the vulnerability in unpatched machines. Multiple variants of Sasser took out airline, public transportation, and hospital networks, causing $18 billion in damages.
While many malware programs on this list are little more than nuisances, Zeus (aka Zbot) was a tool used by a complex criminal enterprise.
The trojan used phishing and keylogging to steal online banking credentials, draining a cumulative $70 million from the accounts of its victims.
Storm Trojan (2007)
Storm Trojan is a particularly sinister piece of email-distributed malware that accounted for 8% of all global infections just three days after its January 2007 launch.
The trojan created a massive botnet of between 1 and 10 million computers, and because it was designed to change its packing code every 10 minutes, Storm Trojan proved incredibly resilient.
Like many early malware scripts, Sircam used social engineering to trick people into opening an email attachment.
The worm chooses a random Microsoft Office file on victims’ computers, infects it, and sends it to all the people in the victims’ email contact list. A University of Florida study pegged Sircam cleanup costs at $3 billion.
Released just after the 9/11 attacks, many thought the devastating Nimda worm had an Al Qaeda connection, though that was never proven, and then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft denied any correlation.
It spread via multiple vectors, bringing down banking networks, federal courts, and other key computer systems. Cleanup costs for Nimda exceeded $500 million in the first few days alone.
The Michelangelo virus spread to relatively few computers and caused little real damage. But the concept of a computer virus set to “detonate” on March 6, 1992 caused a media-fueled mass hysteria, with many afraid to operate their PCs even on anniversaries of the date.
SQL Slammer/Sapphire (2003)
Taking up just 376 bytes, the SQL Slammer worm packed a lot of destruction into a tiny package. The worm slowed down the internet, disabled 911 call centers, took down 12,000 Bank of America ATMs, and caused much of South Korea to go offline. It also crashed the network at Ohio’s Davis-Besse nuclear power plant.
Code Red (2001)
The Code Red worm, named after the Mountain Dew flavor preferred by its creators, infected up to one-third of all Microsoft ISS web servers upon release.
It even took down whitehouse.gov, replacing its homepage with a “Hacked by Chinese!” message. Estimated damages due to Code Red were in the billions of dollars worldwide.
Computers infected with Cryptolocker have important files on their hard drives encrypted and held at ransom. Those who pay approximately $300 in bitcoin to the hackers are given access to the encryption key; those who fail to pay have their data deleted forever.
The Sobig.F trojan infected an estimated 2 million PCs in 2003, grounding Air Canada flights and causing slowdowns across computer networks worldwide. This tricky bug-in-disguise cost $37.1 billion to clean up, making it one of the most expensive malware recovery efforts in history.
Skulls.A is a legitimately spooky mobile trojan that affected the Nokia 7610 smartphone and other SymbOS devices. The malware was designed to change all icons on infected phones to Jolly Rogers and disable all phone functions, save for making and receiving calls.
F-Secure says Skulls.A caused little damage, but the trojan is undeniably creepy.
Stuxnet is one of the first known viruses created for cyberwarfare. Created in a joint effort between Israel and the US, Stuxnet targeted nuclear enrichment systems in Iran.
Infected computers instructed nuclear centrifuges to physically spin until they broke, all while providing fake feedback that operations were normal.
In April 2004, TechRepublic called MyDoom “the worst virus outbreak ever,” and it’s no surprise why. The worm increased the average page load time on the internet by 50%, blocked infected computers’ access to antivirus sites, and launched a denial-of-service attack on computing giant Microsoft.
The worldwide costs associated with cleanup of MyDoom is estimated to be just shy of $40 billion.
The Netsky worm, created by the same teen who made Sasser, made its way around the world by way of email attachments. The P variant of Netsky was the most widespread worm in the world even more than two years after its February 2004 launch.