Happy Birthday PC Virus

Prank starts 25 years of security woes

By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer
Sat Sep 1, 2:33 AM ET

NEW YORK - What began as a ninth-grade prank, a way to trick already-suspicious friends who had fallen for his earlier practical jokes, has earned Rich Skrenta notoriety as the first person ever to let loose a personal computer virus.

Although over the next 25 years, Skrenta started the online news business Topix, helped launch a collaborative Web directory now owned by Time Warner Inc.'s Netscape and wrote countless other computer programs, he is still remembered most for unleashing the "Elk Cloner" virus on the world.

"It was some dumb little practical joke," Skrenta, now 40, said in an interview. "I guess if you had to pick between being known for this and not being known for anything, I'd rather be known for this. But it's an odd placeholder for (all that) I've done." Read more here.

Here is a list of major computer viruses over the last 25 years:

ELK CLONER, 1982: Regarded as the first virus to hit personal computers worldwide, "Elk Cloner" spread through Apple II floppy disks and displayed a poem written by Skrenta, a ninth-grade student who was designing a practical joke.

BRAIN, 1986: "Brain" is the first virus to hit computers running a Microsoft Corp. operating system — DOS. Written by two Pakistani brothers, the virus left the phone number of their computer repair shop.

MORRIS, 1988: Written by a Cornell University graduate student whose father was then a top government computer-security expert, the virus infected an estimated 6,000 university and military computers connected over the Internet. Although viruses had spread over the Internet before, until "Morris" none was widespread.

MELISSA, 1999: "Melissa" was one of the first to spread over e-mail. When users opened an attachment, the virus sent copies of itself to the first 50 people in the user's address book, covering the globe within hours.

LOVE BUG, 2000: Also spread via e-mail attachment, "Love Bug" exploited human nature and tricked recipients into opening it by disguising itself as a love letter.

CODE RED, 2001: Exploiting a flaw in Microsoft software, "Code Red" was among the first "network worms" to spread rapidly because it required only a network connection, not a human opening an attachment. Although the flaw was known, many system operators had yet to install a software patch Microsoft made available a month earlier to fix it.

BLASTER, 2003: "Blaster" also took advantage of a known flaw in Microsoft software and, along with the 2003 "SoBig" outbreak, prompted Microsoft to offer cash rewards to people who help authorities capture and prosecute the virus writers.

SASSER, 2004: "Sasser" exploited a Microsoft flaw as well and prompted some computers to continually crash and reboot, apparently the result of bad programming. Although "Sasser" is hardly the last malicious software, the ones since then have generally received less attention as networks install better defenses and profit-minded virus writers try to avoid detection and removal of their works.

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