Feeds

PC virus celebrates 20th birthday

Many unhappy returns

Security for virtualized datacentres

Analysis Today, 19 January is the 20th anniversary for the appearance of the first PC virus. Brain, a boot sector virus, was let loose in January 1986. Brain spread via infected floppy disks and was a relatively innocuous nuisance in contrast with modern Trojan, rootkits and other malware. The appearance of the first Windows malware nonetheless set in train a chain of events that led up to today's computer virus landscape.

Boot sector viruses ceased to appear when floppy discs went out of fashion but they continued to be a nuisance between 1986 to 1995, when internet technology started to penetrate the consumer market. These types of viruses relied on people to exchange infected discs and virus outbreaks often took months to spread.

The creation of macro viruses, which exploited security weaknesses in Microsoft word and other applications, meant that malware outbreaks peaked after days instead of weeks and months. Macro viruses ruled the roost for around four years between 1995 and 1999 before email became the main vector for viral distribution.

Harnessing the internet meant that the time it took the first email worms, such as the Love Bug, to spread dropped from days to hours. Email worms such as the Love Bug and Melissa caused widespread disruption and confusion in 1999 before they were brought to heel.

By 2001, network worms such as Blaster were created that automatically and indiscriminately infected Windows PCs without adequate protection. Email and network worms remain a problem today but the greatest problem these days is posed by key-logging Trojans designed to snoop on user's private information, such as online account details, and the many strains of malware that turn infected PCs into zombie drones under the control of hackers.

The biggest change over the last 20 years has been in the motives of virus writers rather than in the types of malware they've cooked up, according to anti-virus firm F-Secure.

"The most significant change has been the evolution of virus writing hobbyists into criminally operated gangs bent on financial gain," said F-Secure's chief research officer Mikko Hypponen. “This trend is showing no signs of stopping."

"There are already indications that malware authors will target laptop WLANs as the next vector for automatically spreading worms," he added. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
NASTY SSL 3.0 vuln to be revealed soon – sources (Update: It's POODLE)
So nasty no one's even whispering until patch is out
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
Forget passwords, let's use SELFIES, says Obama's cyber tsar
Michael Daniel wants to kill passwords dead
FBI boss: We don't want a backdoor, we want the front door to phones
Claims it's what the Founding Fathers would have wanted – catching killers and pedos
Kill off SSL 3.0 NOW: HTTPS savaged by vicious POODLE
Pull it out ASAP, it is SWISS CHEESE
Facebook slurps 'paste sites' for STOLEN passwords, sprinkles on hash and salt
Zuck's ad empire DOESN'T see details in plain text. Phew!
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.