Computer Viruses: 40 Year Timeline of Progression

Many websites (including Mashable) are reporting that 2011 is the 25th anniversary of computer viruses; however… upon digging further, I’d like to report to all you real geeks out there that those pesky little buggers have been around for about 40 years (not 25).

So, happy 40th anniversary to computer viruses everywhere! I thought a fun way to celebrate the occasion would be to give you some interesting facts about viruses and how they originally started. Since most infographics on this topic are inaccurate, we’ll just do it old school style today.

The reason many people think it’s the 25th anniversary is because they typically believe Elk Cloner was the first virus (or they just flat out have their dates mixed up). Elk Cloner was an exciting one for sure, which is probably why it’s so popular. It was written by a 15 year old boy because he wanted to play a trick on his friend’s Apple II computer system without actually hurting it. It simply spread a fun little poem via floppy disk.

It’s true that Elk Cloner was the first virus created outside of a lab and that boy should be crowned King Geek; however, it wasn’t the first computer virus ever. The first virus ever was created under much more boring circumstances than Elk Cloner, which is probably why so few people know about it. It was called Creeper, and it was created in a lab in 1971. Someone was working on ARPANET (the mother of the Internet) and they wanted to prove that it was possible for a message to move from one machine to another on a computer network. All this virus did was display a message which read, “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can.

1987 – 1992 were the years when hackers started to have fun with computer viruses. The Jerusalem virus was programmed to delete files every year on Friday the 13th. The Michelangelo virus was designed to attack on March 6th, Michelangelo’s birthday. The early 90s were the first reported years when the media started noticing viruses and reporting on them. It’s the first time the words computer virus started to really develop and have a true definition.

40 Years of Computer Viruses

Fast forward to 2005… this is the year when computer viruses became monetized and from then on, the main purpose of a virus has been to make money in one way or another. The MyTob worm created in 2005 not only cost billions of dollars each year (and that continues today) but it was the first documented example of cybercrime. The first social media virus appeared in 2008, and it was called Koobface. Since I owned my IT company then, I remember that one. I received dozens of calls from people who were infected the moment they were prompted to update their flash player to play a video on Facebook. I think that is one reason I didn’t join Facebook until 2010. That whole thing freaked me out.

Then of course, there was Stuxnet in 2010. Sadly, experts say the only way this could have been created is by a country’s government. The purpose is to destroy an industrial system. I guess it’s true, the next world war may be fought online. According to Guillaume Lovet of Fortinet, the next target could be our smartphones. They are the perfect victims for several legit reasons. For more information about all of these viruses and more, please visit Net-Security. It is the most complete, concise, compiled information on this topic I could find. Thank you Guillaume!

40 Years of Computer Viruses

Image Credits: [Jeff Lueders / Shutterstock] [Lukiyanova Natalia / frenta / Shutterstock] [Dawn Hudson / Shutterstock]