postheadericon A Brief History of Computer Viruses and How Antivirus Software Has Evolved

Science fiction writer David Gerrold wrote “When H.A.R.L.I.E. Was One” and published it in 1972. In it, a computer program called “VIRUS” spreads from computer to computer, before it is finally killed by another program, appropriately called “VACCINE.” Just like communication satellites, moon landings, and waterbeds, science fiction predicted the future.

1999 was a busy year, with the ExploreZip virus appearing in Jerusalem in June. This one had a fake Zip file attached called “Zipped_Files.EXE.” If the user double-clicked the file, it would put up a fake window saying ‘sorry, this zip file is corrupt.” It would then go on to email everyone in the address book, and follow that by destroying documents and files on the hard drive.

The LoveLetter, or “I Love You,” virus hit in May of 2000. It was another emailing virus, this time using VBScript. The user would receive an email with an attachment usually called “love-letter-for-you.txt.vbs”. Notice the dual extension at the end. Many Windows systems will not display the extension, so the “.vbs” would disappear. The user, thinking he’s looking at a .TXT file, feels free to open it, and thereby infects his system. The LoveLetter virus is widely known as the most expensive virus attack in history, with expert estimates upwards of ten billion dollars worth of damage.

The Concept virus was discovered in 1995. Concept is short for “Proof of Concept,” and it was designed to show how viruses could be written in the macro language programmed into Microsoft Word. By 2004, roughly 75% of all viruses are macro viruses. It should also be noted that a lot of the viruses today are very easy to avoid. It’s practically become obvious when someone is trying to send you one.

The CIH virus, later renamed “Chernobyl,” appeared in 1998. This was a very damaging virus that was not only programmed to erase hard drives but also tried to erase BIOS chips. For the first time in history, a virus had managed to actually damage the hardware it was running on. Fortunately, CIH wasn’t very good at it, and only damaged a handful of systems. Neither are a lot of the viruses that are programmed today.

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One Response to “A Brief History of Computer Viruses and How Antivirus Software Has Evolved”

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