See Inside August 2010

Electronic Pathogens

The first computer virus spawned an arms race in software

MALWARE, THE MENAGERIE of malicious software that includes Trojan horses and worms, first made its appearance in the early 1970s, before personal computers had entered the public consciousness. A self-replicating program called Creeper infected the ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet. This virus was not malicious—it simply printed on a screen, “I'm the creeper, catch me if you can!”—but it triggered the first antivirus program, Reaper, which removed it.

Viruses went public in a big way with the proliferation of the personal computer during the 1980s. The first PC virus, Elk Cloner, infected early Apple computers. In 1986 a virus called Brain emerged on PCs that booted up with Microsoft's disk operating system, spreading via floppy disks.

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