A Brief Look at the History of Computer Viruses
Computer viruses are relatively new and started to emerge and upgrade soon after the Internet appeared. The
history of computer viruses show us that the founding blocks of computer viruses were laid in
1949, when scientist John von Neumann came up with the theory about self-replicating programs. In 1969, AT&T
Bell Laboratories come up with the first multi-tasking operating system, UNIX, and, in the same year, ARPANET is
developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency. This was the precursor of the Internet. Let us look back in
time at the interesting history of computer viruses.
In 1979, engineers at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center make a huge discovery: the computer worm. This rudimentary
program is the ancestor of modern computer worms and is designed to search for idle processors in a network. In
1983, Fred Cohen of the University of Southern California comes up with the term “computer virus” to describe a
program that is created to "affect other computer programs by modifying them in such a way as to include a
(possibly evolved) copy of itself."
In 1986, the first PC virus, codename “The Brain” is released from Pakistan. In 1988 came the first devastating
attack against ARPANET computers. Robert Morris, 23, created a small virus that infected almost 6,000 computers on
the network and flooded them with copies of itself. In 1991, Symantec develops the Norton Anti-Virus software as a
way of protecting computers from viruses.
In 1998, more than 500 military and government computer systems are hijacked. Although it was first believed
that the masterminds were based in Iraq, investigators soon found out that two California teenagers were behind the
incident. This hijack demonstrated what a coordinated attack could do, especially combined with a physical
In 1999 came the “Melissa” virus. It managed to infect thousands of computers at an alarming speed, causing over
$80 million in damages. Antivirus software hit record sales. Melissa works by sending infected Word documents to
the first 50 people in your Outlook list.
In 2000, the “I Love You” virus appears. It managed to infect millions of computers in just under a day. The
virus sent usernames and passwords it found on the infected computer back to the author. In 2001, the “Anna
Kournikova” frightens experts who believe that this virus was written using a toolkit. A toolkit would allow even
inexperienced programmers to create computer viruses.
In 2001, the Code Red virus posed a serious threat to the White House website. It infected tens of thousands of
computers, causing damages in excess of $2 billion. It was programmed to unleash the power of all the infected
computers against the White House website at a predetermined time. It was stopped before it could act. The same
year, the Nimda virus hits the Internet. In the brief history of computer viruses this is one of the most
sophisticated viruses ever to appear.
In 2003, the Slammer computer virus infects hundreds of thousands of computers in under three hours. This virus
even delayed airline flights worldwide and in computer virus history this was the fastest spreading virus ever.
Then in 2004, the MyDoom virus, an email virus, claims the top place as the fastest spreading email virus. However,
this computer virus did very little damage.
This is the history of computer viruses up to 2004. After 2004, no more notable viruses appeared due to
sophisticated antivirus and firewall systems.