Computer Virus Timeline

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff
Computer Virus Timeline

by Jarrett Tolman

1949 1980s 1990s 2000
Theories for self-replicating programs are first developed.
Apple Viruses 1, 2, and 3 are some of the first viruses "in the wild," or public domain. Found on the Apple II operating system, the viruses spread through Texas A&M via pirated computer games.
Fred Cohen, while working on his dissertation, formally defines a computer virus as "a computer program that can affect other computer programs by modifying them in such a way as to include a (possibly evolved) copy of itself."
Two programmers named Basit and Amjad replace the executable code in the boot sector of a floppy disk with their own code designed to infect each 360kb floppy accessed on any drive. Infected floppies had "© Brain" for a volume label.
One of the most common viruses, Jerusalem, is unleashed. Activated every Friday the 13th, the virus affects both .EXE and .COM files and deletes any programs run on that day.
Symantec launches Norton AntiVirus, one of the first anti-virus programs developed by a large company.
Tequila is the first widespread polymorphic virus found in the wild. Polymorphic viruses make detection difficult for virus scanners by changing their appearance with each new infection.
1300 viruses are in existence, an increase of 420% from December of 1990.

The Michelangelo scare predicts 5 million computers will crash on March 6. Only 5,000—10,000 actually go down.
Good Times email hoax tears through the computer community. The hoax warns of a malicious virus that will erase an entire hard drive just by opening an email with the subject line "Good Times." Though disproved, the hoax resurfaces every six to twelve months.
Currently harmless and yet to be found in the wild, StrangeBrew is the first virus to infect Java files. The virus modifies CLASS files to contain a copy of itself within the middle of the file's code and to begin execution from the virus section.
The Melissa virus, W97M/Melissa, executes a macro in a document attached to an email, which forwards the document to 50 people in the user's Outlook address book. The virus also infects other Word documents and subsequently mails them out as attachments. Melissa spread faster than any other previous virus.
The Love Bug, also known as the ILOVEYOU virus, sends itself out via Outlook, much like Melissa. The virus comes as a VBS attachment and deletes files, including MP3, MP2, and JPG. It also sends usernames and passwords to the virus' author.

W97M.Resume.A, a new variation of the Melissa virus, is determined to be in the wild. The "resume" virus acts much like Melissa, using a Word macro to infect Outlook and spread itself.

The "Stages" virus, disguised as a joke email about the stages of life, spreads across the Internet. Unlike previous viruses, Stages is hidden in an attachment with a false ".txt" extension, making it easier to lure recipients into opening it. Until now, it has generally been safe to assume the text files are safe.
The Anna Kournikova virus, also known as VBS/SST, which masquerades as a picture of Tennis Star Anna Kournikova, operates in a similar manner to Melissa and The Love Bug. It spreads by sending copies of itself to the entire address book in Microsoft Outlook. It is believed that this virus was created with a so-called virus creation kit, a program which can enable even a novice programmer to create these malicious programs.

In May, the HomePage email virus hit no more than 10,000 users of Microsoft Outlook. When opened, the virus redirected users to sexually explicit Web pages. Technically known as VBSWG.X, the virus spread quickly through Asia and Europe, but was mostly prevented in the U.S. because of lessons learned in earlier time zones. The author of the virus is said to live in Argentina, and have authored the Kournikova virus earlier in the year.
The Code Red I and II worms attacked computer networks in July and August. According to Computer Economics they affected over 700,000 computers and caused upwards of 2 billion in damages. A worm spreads through external and (then) internal computer networks, as opposed to a virus which infects computers via email and certain websites. Code Red took advantage of a vulnerability in Microsoft's Windows 2000 and Windows NT server software. Microsoft developed a patch to protect networks against the worm, and admits that they too were attacked. Other major companies affected include AT&T, and the AP.
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