- John McAfee, founder of McAfee Antivirus
The idea of self-replicating computer programs, or viruses, is a surprisingly old concept. They were theorized on the paper long before the first virus was ever created. In 1949, John von Neumann wrote an article called "Theory and Organization of Complicated Automata" that reviewed self-replicating computer programs. In 1966, von Neumann published the article "Theory of self-producing automata", the basic principles of which were later implemented as the base for the self-sustaining and automatic viruses.
As computers became more and more common, evil-minded individuals constantly gained new knowledge on bypassing protection and developing malware. Thus, viruses slowly turned into a common nuisance, and, as the technology developed, all new malware and cybersecurity threats came into the picture.
Technological history is full of different kinds of viruses and other malware, and it would be impossible to take a look at each of them. However, the following timeline should shed light on the history of viruses.
The Creeper Non-malicious the Creeper virus was developed by Bob Thomas to demonstrate how software could automatically bounce between the computers on the network and display a "I'm the creeper: Catch me if you can" message on the screen.
Ray Tomlinson, Thomas' colleague updated the creeper to leave behind copies of itself while also dreating THE REAPER. This new software hunted down the Creeper-infected computers and deleted the copies. In other words, Tomlinson created the first modern virus and the first antivirus.
A high school student Richard Skrenta created a program called the Elk Cloner that was spread around as a prank. Skrenta's virus spread via floppy disks to Apple II computers and infected other disks that were later inserted in them.
Elk Cloner was harmless but would display a poem when launching software from a floppy disk the 50th time. Luckily, rebooting the computer was enough to get rid of the virus.
Basit Farooq Alvi and Amjad Farooq Alvi, from Pakistan, originally created the program to protect their medical software from pirates. However, the floppy that had the program was stolen which lead to the virus spreading all over the world.
The brain is considered the first real computer virus that caused harm to Windows PCs. It significantly slowed down floppy disks and took control of the most of the computer's memory. The creators were also able to track infected machines.
The brothers had included their addresses and phone numbers on Brain's message which lead to the brothers receiving numerous amounts of calls to clean infected computers in the UK and the United States, for example.
The end of the 1980s meant an increase of viruses as more and more people were able to access a computer and were interested in exploiting their weaknesses. The Vienna virus corrupted and deleted data on infected devices.
Computer scientist Brend Fix created the every first antivirus software that managed to detect and destroy the virus.
'For a long time, viruses were harmless, even if annoying. Creating a virus was more of a hobby and many made them for entertainment.
At the end of the 1980s, however, the viruses were becoming more and more harmful.
Malware started to lock down files and demand money for accessing them again. For some viruses, the goal was only to wreck as much havoc as possible by deleting and overwriting data.'
In 1989, Joseph Popp created the first so-called ransomware, the AIDS Trojan. Infected computers' files and data would be hidden and locked after the 90th startup. Then, the ransomware would demand a ransom of 189$ before allowing the users to access their files again.
Popp was eventually caught and charged with 11 counts of blackmail. However, he was declared mentally unfit and agreed to donate the money to AIDS research.
On March 6th, on the painter Michelangelo's birthday, 1992, a virus started to destroy all data on computers it had infected previously through disks. It had remained dormant and undetected until that day.
The exact number of infected computers is unknown, but almost 20,000 deviced are estimated to have fallen victims of this new kind of malware.
After John MacAfee, the founder of McAfee an antivirus company, made an offhand statement of hundreds of thousands of infected computers, people started to show more interest in antivirus software to protect their devices.
Melissa was one of the first email-based viruses that took advantage of the addresses in email contacts to spread across more and more devices. The email had a Word file with a list of pornographic websites, but would also send private Word files from the computer.
The creator was caught fairly quickly, and the virus was contained.
Melissa was the inspiration for the ILOVEYOU virus, which also spread through email the same way. ILOVEYOU was disguised as a love letter, hence the name. Immediately after activation the virus would overwrite data, steal usernames, IP addresses, and much more before denying the user access to their personal email.
ILOVEYOU infected almost 45 million computers around the world. After this incident, especially companies started focusing more on antivirus software.
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