Vintage computer users remember when home computers never needed an antivirus suite. Viruses were tools reserved for science fiction hackers in films like WarGames or Sneakers. Then the Internet came along. Soon surfing without a firewall, email filters, privacy defense software AND antivirus software was like Russian roulette. It might seem paranoid, but that paranoia is well-founded, as this list of five computer malware attacks shows. Viruses are not bogeymen. They are real.
The Creeper Virus, 1971
Although not as destructive as modern viruses, the Creeper Virus receives distinction for being the first networked virus. This malware infected several banks of mainframe computers through a proto-Internet, causing displays to flash an ominous “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can.” To rid the computer of this menace, programmers created the first antivirus software called Reaper.
The Elk Cloner, 1981
Although Apple claims its OS is virtually impervious to computer attacks, that wasn’t always the case. Written by a teenage boy, the Elk Cloner virus spread quickly through Apple IIs because of the computer’s reliance on removable storage. Owners simply exchanged disks and spread the virus. Although the virus did little damage other than pasting messages onscreen every fiftieth startup, it spread quickly and effectively, hinting at the potential of destructive malware.
Michelangelo Virus, 1991
Famous for creating the first widespread malware panic, the Michelangelo virus first “infected” the news media in 1991. Doomsayers stated that this virus would infect millions of computers and shut down automation on March 6 (the real Michelangelo’s birthday). The sinister aspect of this virus is that it could reside quietly and invisibly in a computer until March 6, where it would essentially make all storage irretrievable.
Much like Y2K, the fuss meant almost nothing. March 6 came and went and planes kept flying and satellites kept beeping. Experts anticipated millions, but in the end barely ten thousand were infected. Although the virus could stay dormant for years, no epidemic took place. The potential of the virus terrified programmers and even inspired parts of John McAfee’s popular suite of software.
ILOVEYOU worm, 2000
The ILOVEYOU worm became the first truly destructive malware. Computer worms are self-replicating malware that need no program to act as a catalyst. They only need a place to stay and a place to go. The ILOVEYOU worm, created by a Filipino hacker, traveled through a seemingly-benign email with the subject “I Love You.” Once opened, the worm would infect image files, destroy storage partitions and email itself to fifty recipients. Causing billions in damage, experts estimate this worm infected 10% of the world’s networked computers.
Zeus Keystroke Logger, 2008
The Zeus keystroke logger is famous both for the damage it did and the damage it may continue to do. Unlike the other malware on this list, versions of Zeus are still up and running. This sneaky virus bypasses many anti-virus systems, recognizes and records banking information and transmits it to a server. Account passwords, banking numbers and virtually all private information were revealed by the Zeus keystroke logger.
When the FBI finally ramped up a worldwide investigation, it was discovered that hackers from Eastern Europe were harvesting nearly 100 million dollars from (mostly) US accounts. Caught, arrested and jailed, this seemed to end the reign of Zeus. However, most programmers that came face-to-face with the virus believe it is just “sleeping” and waiting for widespread vulnerability.