All this panic over a simple strain of flu got us thinking about some of the more virulent computer pandemics that have hit in recent years. While a computer virus pales in seriousness to a human outbreak, malware attacks can still take a huge toll on businesses throughout the world.
The viruses below may not have been the most widespread or effective, although many of them were. Instead they are the ones that stick in the mind as being particularly notable. There are been so many over the years, and viruses will always be a part of computing now, but these may bring back memories, not all of them pleasant.
Honourable mention: Creeper
Iain Thomson: Creeper was possibly the very first computer virus, although this is contested. It was invented back in 1971 by Bob Thomas, using the Tenex operating system, and used the precursor of the internet, ARPANET, to spread between DEC PDP 10 systems.
To delete the Creeper program another piece of code, Reaper, was created to hunt it down and destroy it. The first anti-virus virus, Reaper was an excellent idea and one that worked well.
Some don’t consider it a virus because it lacked many of the features of modern viruses, but I’m counting it anyway because it was an example of the harmlessness of the early age of computers. Creeper did nothing more than display the message ‘I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!’ No payload, no theft, it was an example of a simpler age.
Shaun Nichols: In computer years, 1971 was nearly prehistoric. No Apple, no Microsoft and the internet was still a wild, far-off concept. Still, in this era where computer programming was a highly-specialised skill, we saw many firsts.
Perhaps a sign of the early times, Creeper’s creator not only released the virus itself, but a cleaning program called Reaper that removed the Creeper code.
Honourable mention: Brain
Iain Thomson: Brain was the first virus written for Microsoft’s DOS operating system, back in 1986. It was originally developed to stop the copying of a medical software program developed by two Pakistani brothers, Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi.
Brain spread by floppy disc and copied itself into the boot sector of the media. It displayed the names of the creators, and suggested the infected recipients got in contact to get disinfected.
It spread quickly and the two brothers were inundated with calls from people around the world demanding that their machines were disinfected. Such was the volume of calls that the two eventually had their phone lines cut off.
Shaun Nichols: Remember how much heat Sony took when it used a rootkit as part of its copy-protection software? Well, it turns out Sony wasn’t the first group to make that mistake.
Back in 1986, a pair of developers from Pakistan tried to stop piracy of their biomedical software by including a small snippet of code to track and report possible piracy. That code was soon removed and redistributed as a virus.
This was back in 1986, so the ‘FAIL’ meme had yet to be put into use, but if it had, Brain Computer Services would have no doubt more than earned the tag.