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A Brief History of Computer Viruses

Computer viruses are executable computer programs that have replicating capabilities and can move from one computer to another. These are harmful to the computers because they quickly use up all the available memory and make the whole system come to a halt. These viruses have evolved a great deal over the years.

The Origin Of The Computer Virus

The origin of computer viruses goes back to 1949 when John Von Neumann, a Mathematician, described about self-replicating programs that resemble today’s computer viruses. But, it was during the 1960s that you can find the early ancestors of current viruses. Creeper was one among the first viruses to be identified in the 1960s and it was able to replicate itself and spread to other computers on the ARPANET. However, it did not cause much damage. During this period, a few programmers created a game known as “Core Wars”, and this was able to reproduce itself every time the game was run and this could also saturate the computer memory of other players’ computers. They also developed the first antivirus, called Reeper and this had the ability to destroy copies that were created by Core Wars.

In 1969, the first multi-tasking operating system, UNIX, was developed by AT&T Bell Laboratories, and in the same year, Advanced Research Projects Agency developed ARPANET. The computer worm was discovered by the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center engineers in 1979 and this is the ancestor of modern computer worms and was designed to search for idle processors in a network. Computer Virus was a term that came up in 1983 when Fred Cohen from the Southern California University used it to describe the program that was created to affect other computer programs by modifying them in such a way as to include a copy of itself.

Computer viruses were first widely seen in the late 1980s, when home computers became popular. During this time, MS-DOS was beginning to become the eminent operating system worldwide. Although this system had great prospects, it had many deficiencies as well. In 1986, this operating system was made the target of a virus called Brain, which was created in Pakistan. This virus infected the disks and their contents became inaccessible. This year also gave birth to first Trojan, PC-Write.

In 1987, Suriv-02 virus infected COM files and it helped to open the door to viruses like Jerusalem and Viernes 13. But the worst type of virus, Morris worm created by Robert Morris, appeared in 1988 and infected nearly 6,000 computers on the network and flooded them with copies of itself. In 1988, more than 500 military and government computer systems were hijacked and it was found that two California teenagers were behind this incident. From that time until 1995 various types of harmful codes were developed, and the macro viruses appeared, followed by polymorphic viruses, and so on. Some of these viruses like MichaelAngelo, even triggered epidemics. In 1991, Symantec developed the Norton Anti-Virus software to protect computers from viruses.

The development of the first malicious code, Melissa, in 1999 caused a worldwide epidemic and opened a new world for computer viruses. The Melissa infected thousands of computers at great speed and caused over $80 million in damages. During this time, Antivirus software hits record sales.

The “I Love You” virus appeared in 2000 and it infected millions of computers in just one day. In 2001, Anna Kournikova appeared and it frightened experts as they believed that this virus was written using a toolkit. A toolkit would allow even inexperienced programmers to create computer viruses. The Code Red virus posed a serious threat to the White House website in 2001. It infected tens of thousands of computers and caused damages in excess of $2 billion. This virus was programmed to unleash the power of all the infected computers against the White House website, at a predetermined time. However, it was stopped before it could act. In the same year, the Nimda virus, a very sophisticated virus in the brief history of computer – viruses, hit the Internet.

The Slammer computer virus infected hundreds of thousands of computers in under three hours and it was the fastest spreading virus in the history – of computer – viruses. It even delayed airline flights worldwide. In 2004, an email virus called MyDoom claimed the top place as the fastest spreading email virus, but it caused very little damage.

Despite the use of antiviruses and firewall software, people claim that their computers are affected by viruses. While some of these attacks cause a major disruption, others render their computer unusable. Computer viruses have come a long way from their early days of personal computers, and now hackers have gone professional and their ambitions have grown. A malicious software called Conflicker infected millions of computers and turned them slaves, which respond to commands sent from a remote server. So, people should be more aware of security threats than ever before and take appropriate steps to protect their computers and themselves.

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