Happy birthday to the computer virus

Wow, time really flies, doesn’t it? It appears that today is the 25th anniversary of the first computer “virus” to be observed in the wild. And we know that because Rich Skrenta — now co-founder and CEO of Topix — got a call from an enterprising reporter who remembered that Rich created that virus, the legendary “Elk Cloner” virus, when he was a 15-year-old high-school kid goofing around with an Apple II. Yes, you read that right: irony of all ironies, the first virus found in the wild infected Apple computers.


According to the Wikipedia entry, Elk Cloner would hide in the RAM on an Apple machine and wait for a floppy disk to be inserted, then copy itself to the disk. On the 50th boot from that disk, the screen would be wiped clean and the following message would appear to taunt the user:

Elk Cloner: The program with a personality

It will get on all your disks
It will infiltrate your chips
Yes it’s Cloner!

It will stick to you like glue
It will modify RAM too
Send in the Cloner!

Mention of the virus made it into Scientific American magazine and even Time magazine. Since there were no anti-virus programs, the virus spread relatively rapidly. The only way to immunize a disk was to manually stamp the virus’s ID onto a particular sector of the disk (track 2 around sector 8 according to this page at Skrenta’s site). And the PC virus? Came along four years later — the so-called “Brain” virus, courtesy of two brothers from Pakistan.

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