Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The History of the Computer Virus

The first virus was one called the Creeper. It was detected on ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet back in the early 70’s. It spread via the TENEX operating system, using the modem connection to call out to other computers and infect them. Then it would display a message: "I'M THE CREEPER: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN" A program was created to fight the Creeper. It was called the Reaper. It is rumored it was developed by the same person who created the virus itself.

The first virus to infect a computer outside a network, or the place it was created, was the Elk Cloner. It was developed in 1982 by Rich Skrenta, a 15-year old high school student.
During a winter break from Mt Lebanon High School in Pennsylvania,US, he figured out how to send messages automatically on his Apple II machine. The first boot sector virus was created by him, infecting high school friends’ and local computer clubs’ machines. The infected machines would display a little poem on every 50th boot, but otherwise were caused no harm. The poem goes like:

Elk Cloner: The program with a personality
It will get on all your disks
It will infiltrate your chips
Yes it's Cloner!
It will stick to you like glue
It will modify RAM too
Send in the Cloner!

The first virus for PC was one called “Brain”. It was developed by two brothers Amjad Farooq and Basit Alvi in Lahore, Pakistan, back in 1986. It was a boot sector virus and they used it to deter pirated software that they created. Later analysts claimed that the Ashar virus preceded the Brain, but it was based on a code within it.

Before the computer networks were popular, viruses spread through removable storage devices, most commonly floppies. The traditional computer viruses appeared in the 80’s. With the increasingly popular use of the modem and the BBS, they were infecting commonly traded programs, shareware, even illicitly traded retail software. In the mid 90’s macro viruses became more common. They spread through Microsoft Office by infecting spreadsheets and documents. They also infected Macintosh computers, since Excel and Word were available for Mac OS as well.

The newest generation of viruses are called cross-site scripting viruses. They were academically demonstrated in 2005. They use cross-site scripting vulnerability (usually web applications, that allow code injection into the webpages) to spread. Even large sites were affected, like MySpace and Yahoo.

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