12.11.03

A real life horror story

This week, the computer virus will celebrate its 20th birthday. In November 1983, US computing student Fred Cohen created the very first computer virus (strangely enough, on the UNIX platform) as a proof of concept project during his studies.

Twenty years later, and the story sounds like a typical horror movie:

"It started as an experiment... nobody knows where it will end..."

It sounds like a line from a movie trailer, read out by the voice-over actor with the distinctively gravely voice who seems to be on a studio retainer to advertise any film with a sinister edge.



"It started as a high school experiment... they never meant it to get out of the lab..."


You can even picture the opening sequence, bespectacled boffin type proclaims: "I've done it - I've created a computer virus."

Cut to "20 years later..." caption - and the world is in tatters...

Well, not quite, but the growth of the Internet has accelerated the spread of viruses worldwide. And with so many virus writers, most of whom are just doing it for fun, the story seems set to continue. Damage caused by computer viruses this year alone runs into billions of dollars.

The first real milestone was Brain. This was the first PC virus and this is where it all began. Next I'd say Tequila, which was a multipartite virus (infected floppy disks, hard disks and executable files). Then, Concept - the first Word macro virus in 1995. This was the first virus which could infect documents and rewrote the rules for viruses. Then of course there was Melissa - the first successful email-aware virus - and the granddaddy of all email-aware viruses. Then came social engineering - best utilised by The Love Bug and Kournikova.

So what future for viruses? No one really knows. Things could get a lot worse, or could quickly get better. Microsoft recently announced a $5 million fund to pay for rewards to people who rat on virus writers. But so many people are making money from the entire fiasco, we may never see the end of this......

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