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Bugs in the system


  • The world’s first true computer virus is the “Elk Cloner,” created by American Rich Skrenta in 1982 on his Apple II computer. The virus would make a poem Skrenta wrote appear every 50th time someone booted an infected disk. Skrenta was in the 9th grade at the time.
  • The first virus to hit computers running Microsoft’s operating system came in 1986, when two brothers in Pakistan wrote a program now dubbed “Brain” – purportedly to punish people who spread pirated software. The virus displayed the phone number of the brothers’ computer shop for repairs.
  • With email came a new way to spread viruses: “Melissa” (1999), “Love Bug” (2000) and “SoBig” (2003) snarled millions of computers by tricking people into clicking on email attachments and launching a program that automatically sent copies to other victims.
  • Many early viruses overwhelmed networks, although later ones frequently corrupt documents or have other destructive properties.
  • More recent viruses steal personal data such as passwords or to create relay stations for making junk email more difficult to trace.
  • There are now hundreds of thousands of viruses worldwide – perhaps more than a million depending on how one counts slight variations.
  • There are even “computer-free” computer viruses. One chain email advised people to delete a particular file from their computer to keep it secure. The file was critical to the system, it turned out. The “virus” that caused its deletion was “executing” only in people’s minds. And you can’t get a virus checker for the brain.


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