Viral Scourge 101

Not-so-great moments in PC history.
Daniel Tynan
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

from an article at PC

Where did these buggers come from? Why are they after me in the first place? And when will the madness stop? To provide some perspective, I've pieced together a brief history of the computer virus.

1982. "Elk Cloner," considered by some to be the first computer virus found "in the wild," spreads via Apple II floppies and displays this message on screens:

It will get on all your disks
It will infiltrate your chips
Yes it's Cloner!

1983. USC grad student Fred Cohen uses the term virus to describe a destructive, self-replicating computer program.

1986. Brain, the first IBM PC virus, appears on 360KB floppies. A text file accompanying the virus contains the name and address of its authors, Pakistani brothers Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi. The brothers mean no harm. As software vendors, they say they're trying to measure the extent of software piracy in their country. But Brain gets loose and starts copying itself to floppies around the world--without causing any damage.

1987. An experimental virus escapes from a computer lab in Israel. Known as Jerusalem, it strikes on Friday the 13th and deletes programs run on that day.

"Stoned," a boot-sector virus that displays the message "Your PC is Now Stoned" at start-up but does no damage, starts to spread.

1988. Cornell grad student Robert Morris, Jr. releases the first worm across the Internet. The worm ultimately shuts down 6000 Unix systems and causes from $10 million to $100 million in damage.

The Computer Emergency Response Team is created by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which sponsored the Internet.

1990. The first viruses from Bulgarian virus writer "Dark Avenger" appear. Also in Bulgaria: the first electronic bulletin board for virus writers to swap code. Eastern Europe would soon become a hotbed of malicious coders.

Number of known viruses: less than 300

1991. Tequila, the first polymorphic virus to appear in the wild, is unwittingly distributed on shareware disks. Polymorphic viruses change their appearance to thwart antivirus software; by year's end, dozens of polymorphic viruses have appeared.

1992. Michelangelo becomes the first virus to gain widespread media attention. Written to strike on March 6 (the artist's birthday) and overwrite victims' hard drives, Michelangelo affected an estimated 5000 to 10,000 machines--far fewer than predicted.

1994. E-mails warning of the extremely virulent (but fictitious) Good Times virus begin circulating around the Net, the first of many such virus hoaxes to come.

1995-1997. The Concept virus attacks macros in Microsoft Word; it's the first virus that works equally well on both Windows and Macintosh operating systems.

Number of known viruses by 1997: 10,000+

1998. Hacker group Cult of the Dead Cow releases Back Orifice, a tool kit for building Trojan horse programs that let hackers infect unprotected PCs and control them remotely.

1999. Melissa appears. It is the first virus to use address books on a victim's computer to e-mail itself to other users. It spreads across the globe in a matter of hours.

2000. A massive distributed denial-of-service attack shuts down, CNN, Yahoo, and other major Web sites for several days.

The LoveLetter virus spreads to millions of machines overnight, stealing user names and passwords from its victims.

2001. The Anna Kournikova virus appears in the form of an e-mail attachment promised to be a photo of the tennis star. Experts believe it's the first successful virus created by "script kiddie" authors, novice programmers who write viruses using tools downloaded from the Net.

The Code Red and Nimda viruses hit thousands of machines, causing more than $2 billion in damage. They are some of the first examples of "blended threats," which combine elements of e-mail worms and traditional viruses.

2002. The Klez worm first appears, overwhelming e-mail servers and disabling antivirus programs.

A denial of service attack targets the Internet's 13 root servers, responsible for routing all traffic across the Net, though it causes no lasting damage.

2003. The year of the worm. Successive waves of attacks--Slammer, Blaster, and Sobig--pummel in-boxes around the world, clogging e-mail servers, and costing billions of dollars in lost productivity. And experts agree: We ain't seen nothing yet.

Number of known viruses today (Oct. 2003): 70,000+

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