The Benevolent Brain And The Birth Of The PC Virus

This is a guest post by Zachary Lee.

Evolution of Computer Virus
The chronicle of the computer virus dates back to computing antiquity. First appearing in 1949 as theoretical self-replicating automata in the minds of mathematicians like John Von Neumann, the first living computer viruses appeared in the 70's as data storage war games (to later inspire the Tron zeitgeist), practical jokes and pranks – never spreading beyond the native environment in which they were born.

These early computer 'viruses' were more like controllable programs, having no malicious intent or capabilities. It was not until the advancement of operating systems and mobile storage media like floppy discs, mobile storage (and now the internet) that the computer virus became popular culture – and an actual threat to data.

The first quick-to-go-global PC virus did not appear until 1986, when the "Brain" spread beyond its humble origins of Pakistan, and went 'wild' as it was passed from floppy disk to system, and back to floppy disc.

Written 26 years ago by two Pakistani brothers trying to protect their own medical software code, Brain would affect computers by replacing the boot sectors of floppy discs with a copy of itself. The native boot sector would be marked as bad, and then be moved to another sector. The virus would slow down the floppy disc, aggravating users with a message like:

Welcome to the Dungeon (c) 1986 Brain & Amjads (pvt) Ltd VIRUS_SHOE RECORD V9.0 Dedicated to the dynamic memories of millions of viruses who are no longer with us today - Thanks GOODNESS!! BEWARE OF THE er..VIRUS : this program is catching program follows after these messages....$#@%$@!!

Brain was hardly malicious compared to today's data mining viruses, worms and Trojans. In fact, Brain lacked the necessary code for drive partitioning, and would barely ever infect the hard disk. Rather, Brain remained fairly undetected as long as users did not realize their floppy was slow.

"Our work was not intended to harm anyone. It was a friendly virus. We wrote it for our medical software to be protected from piracy…," explains Amjad Alvi, one of the brothers who wrote Brain.

Today, the evolution of computer viruses continues as the age of digital data envelopes us all. Hopefully in the future (when friendly self-replicating automata is improving computing for us all), we will be celebrating the history of computer viruses in jubilee. If ethical hacking continues to be a core tenant of computer virus evolution, perhaps we will reflect upon the birth of viruses as merely benevolent aspirations of hackers to learn, understand and improve how data is stored, shared and transported.

About the author:

Article written by Zachary Lee. To learn more about the latest evolution of computing viruses, worms, Trojans, rootkits and more, check out IT Security Watch.

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