Who invented the first computer virus?

Original author: Rosie Cima
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The very first viruses were harmless. These were experiments - such as one of the first Creeper viruses, which simply displayed the message “I'M A CREEPER: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN”. Their distribution was limited to home networks (Creeper existed on the TENEX OS ). That was in 1971.

Now there are millions of viruses spreading over the Internet in all sorts of ways - file distribution, e-mail, sites. When everything is connected with everything, viruses spread quickly. Virus protection is a profitable business .

It began rather slowly and much earlier than could be expected. The first viruses spread through offline - they worked with floppy disks and transferred to them between computers. Who invented the virus?

The first Mac virus was written as a teenage joke. The first PC virus was made to combat piracy.

Elk cloner


In 1981 , Richard Skrenta was in 9th grade. He was a very smart bully armed with an Apple II computer. Most of all he liked to mock peers about their pirated computer games. In a 2000 interview, he said :

I joked with my peers, changing copies of pirated games so that they self-destruct after a certain number of starts. I handed out games, they sat down on them, and then she suddenly stopped working and gave out some kind of funny comment on the screen (sense of humor of a ninth grader).

As a result, friends stopped letting Skrent to their diskettes. He stopped borrowing games, everyone stopped playing his toys, etc. But he did not calm down. He began to study instructions and descriptions, trying to find the security hole Apple II. And he came up with a way to execute code without touching floppy disks.

“I thought of leaving a certain mark in the OS on a working school computer. If the next user did not restart the computer from his drive, his drive was affected by my code. "

He wrote assembly code in two weeks, and named it Elk Cloner. It became what was later called the “boot sector virus”. When an uninfected disk was inserted into the drive of an infected computer, it infected the disk by writing a copy of the virus to it in the boot sector. This code was automatically executed at boot time. Bringing the infected disk to another computer, and booting from it, the person infected this computer with a copy of the virus.

The virus interfered with the work of the computer, and on the 50th launch, instead of launching the program, it displayed a whole poem on the screen:

Elk Cloner: a program with personality

It will creep into your disks. It will
penetrate your chips.
Yes, this is a Cloner!
It will stick, like glue.
Your operative will be corrected.
Send Cloner soon.

Due to the delay in the appearance of the program, it was immediately impossible to notice, which improved the chances of distribution. The epidemic lasted several weeks.

The program got to the computer of the teacher Skrenta , who accused him of entering his office. The virus was also picked up by Skrent's relatives from Baltimore (he himself lived in Pittsburgh), and after many years he heard about a case of infection of a computer belonging to some sailor.



The first spreading virus for the IBM PC was the Brain virus. He also settled in the boot sector. It was written by the brothers Bazit and Amjad Farouk Alvi from Pakistan in 1986. They were 17 and 24 years old.

The brothers had a computer firm, Brain Computer Services, and they wrote a virus to track down pirated copies of their medical software. A pirated program was eating up RAM, slowing down the disk, and sometimes interfered with saving data. According to the assurances of the brothers, she did not destroy the data. The program contained the following message:

Welcome to the Dungeon 1986 Basit & Amjad (pvt) Ltd. BRAIN COMPUTER SERVICES 730 NIZAB BLOCK ALLAMA IQBAL TOWN LAHORE-PAKISTAN PHONE: 430791,443248,280530. Beware of this VIRUS ... Contact us for vaccination ... $ # @% $ @ !!

Welcome to the dungeon ... Watch out for this virus ... Contact us for treatment ...

The real contacts were indicated in the header. When someone called them for help, they could identify a pirated copy. Also, the virus counted the number of copies made.
They found that piracy was widespread, and copies of their programs spread very far. Amjad says their first call came from the United States, Miami.

Alvi Brothers in 2011.

This was the first of many calls from the United States. The problem turned out to be that Brain also spread across other floppies, not just copies of their program. University of Delaware even has an epidemicthis virus in 1986, and then it appeared in many other places. No lawsuits were filed, but in the newspapers they wrote a lot about it. The creators were even mentioned in Time Magazine in 1988. The

New York Times wrote in May 1988 : “The daring computer program that appeared on the computers of the Providence Bulletin this month destroyed files from one correspondent and spread through floppy disks throughout the newspaper’s network. Computer scientists believe that this is the first time a computer system of an American newspaper has been infected with such an impudent program, which they call the computer “virus”.

The Alvi brothers had to change phones and remove contacts from later versions of the virus. They stopped selling the program in 1987.. Their company has grown into a telecommunications provider and now it is the largest provider in Pakistan. It is located at the same address.

And now - Chaos

Skrenta in 2012

Skrenta worked in the field of information security, and now he is CEO of Blekko , which is engaged in search technologies.

Although floppy disks have long been gone, viruses exist in boot sectors. Now they work with USB sticks. As physical media is less and less used for data transfer, experts are confident that the days of boot viruses are numbered.

The virus war has moved online. Skrenta said in an interview with The Register : “It's sad that there is such a large industry of antiviruses. We need to make more secure systems, and not organize a multi-million dollar industry to clean up existing ones. ”

Skrenta and the Alvi brothers do not feel guilty for starting a hellish procession of malware around the world. “Jin would have gotten out of the bottle anyway,” Skrent wrote on his blog . “I was interested in being the first to release him.”

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