Even if you're not interested in technology, you've heard of computer viruses.But when did the era of computer viruses begin?How far has the virus evolved since then?What might future viruses look like?
What was the first computer virus?
The first ever computer virus appeared in 1971 under the name "Crawler".However, the virus was produced in a controlled environment as a test to see if it was possible to create a self-replicating program.The most remarkable ability of a virus is to replicate itself, so the crawler is the first example of such a program.
But we all know that most viruses are far more malicious.The first virus to fit this description was dubbed "Elk Cloner".
Elk Cloner was the first computer virus discovered "in the wild".In other words, it was the first virus to be found in an uncontrolled environment (or "in a zoo").The virus was created in 15 on an Apple II series computer by a 1982-year-old high school student named Rich Skrenta.
Elk Cloner is a boot sector virus, which means that when an infected floppy is inserted, a copy of it is placed in the computer's memory storage.In other words, the virus does not require the user's permission to replicate.While Skrenta started spreading the virus among his friends as a prank, it spread beyond that and out of Skrenta's control.
While Elk Cloner wasn't a huge virus and didn't do any harm to infected devices, it was indeed the first virus to be used outside of a controlled research setting.
Another virus called "brain" is also considered by many to be the first computer virus. Brain came a few years after Elk Cloner, the product of the work of two Pakistani brothers. Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi created Brain to prevent others from copying their software.
Like Elk Cloner, Brain uses floppy disks to infect devices.And, like the Elk Cloner, Brain lost control of its creator.The brain is not a very dangerous virus either, but plays a role in paving the way for future programs.
What is the biggest computer virus?
Various computer viruses have been named the "biggest" virus, but Mydoom stands out as the most universally agreed candidate.
The Mydoom virus (also known as W32.MyDoom@mm, Novarg, Shimgapi, and Mimail.R) has roiled the cybersecurity industry, infecting an estimated 50 computers worldwide. In January 2004, Mydoom first appeared on infected computers.But this is just the beginning.Over the next month or so, Mydoom spread through a malicious email campaign with attachments, causing millions of dollars worth of damage.
In the early 21s, cybersecurity protections were far less advanced than they are today, making it easier for viruses like Mydoom to jump from computer to computer.Once a computer is infected with Mydoom, it can turn into a zombie device.Zombie devices can be remotely controlled by attackers.Multiple bots form a botnet, which can then be used in DDoS attacks.
Even in 2019, Mydoom is still being used in phishing attacks, which once again shows us just how successful it can be among malicious actors.
How do computer viruses evolve?
A lot has changed since the first computer virus was invented in the 1970s.As technology has evolved, cybercriminals have found new ways to exploit devices and trick victims.
By today's standards, the first computer viruses were considered pretty basic.Of course, using a floppy to infect a device is no longer feasible, since most computers don't even have a floppy input disk.So, as computers evolve, viruses evolve with them.
Because viruses are built with code, the code itself is what determines its capabilities and complexity.However, the computer viruses that waged war on devices in the 2000s are somewhat a thing of the past.But why is this the case?
Computer Viruses Today
Viruses aren't the only programs that threaten our online security today.Now, other types of malware are commonly used to steal data, monitor activity, and obtain funds.
Unlike viruses, malware programs cannot replicate themselves.But that doesn't make them any less dangerous.Ransomware, spyware, and Trojans are all popular forms of malware that can cause enormous damage.For example, ransomware attacks have caused companies to pay millions of dollars in ransom in exchange for their stolen or encrypted data.
Note that viruses are sometimes considered under the umbrella of malware, since "malware" is an umbrella term for many different malicious programs.
Viruses are also fairly basic in structure.These programs exist as a rudimentary form of malicious coding, and the vast majority follow a very similar script.In addition, a virus needs a host program on which it can replicate itself.This is not the case for many kinds of malware, which makes them even more useful.
Due to the rise of these various malware programs, viruses have somewhat taken a backseat.This decline in popularity has also been driven by improvements in antivirus software.Viruses are fairly easy to spot and therefore avoid when using modern antivirus software, making their success rate much lower.
On the other hand, some other malware is designed to evade detection by antivirus software, making them more certain for cybercriminals.
That's not to say the virus is entirely a thing of the past.Viruses still exist today and can still cause problems for victims.As mentioned, the Mydoom virus was allegedly found to be used in phishing campaigns as recently as 2019.But many of the most high-profile viral attacks occurred in the early 21s.Since then, other programs have taken turns.
The Future of Computer Viruses
Computer viruses have seemed outdated since their heyday in the 2000s.
If anything, viruses have shown the world how vulnerable our computers and phones are.We've come a long way since the first widespread viruses appeared in the 20s, and modern web security techniques have gotten good at weeding out these basic malicious programs.
Other types of cyberthreats, such as ransomware and Trojans, still pop up from time to time, and we're likely to see newer types of malware emerge over time.After all, there is an obvious connection between the advancement of computers and the advancement of malicious programs.
Artificial intelligence is likely to play a huge role in cybersecurity threats, and machine learning provides attackers with new ideas, avenues, and targets.Another emerging technology known as quantum computing could also be exploited maliciously by cybercriminals, though it's hard to know what the future holds.
The virus has taught us many lessons
Although viruses have disappeared from mainstream use in cybercrime today, we must not forget what we have learned from their existence in the past.Antivirus programs can now find and quarantine most viruses, a luxury we don't always have.Cybercrime has to start somewhere, and it's safe to say that viruses are its origin.
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