The first computer virus was created in the early 1970s and was detected on ARPANET, the predecessor to the internet. In 1988 the first computer worm was distributed, gaining mass mainstream media attention. A quarter of a century later and viruses have evolved to become a pandemic. Viruses have proliferated quickly and malware has become more complex.
Cyber attacks happen daily and are constantly evolving. From computer worms to large data breaches, attacks come in all shapes and sizes. In the past quarter century alone, cyber attacks have evolved from tiny hacks created by high-school students to state-sponsored attacks compromising presidential elections.
While threats continue to develop, so does the defense against them. It’s important to remember these past events in order to combat impending attacks. Milestone incidents are what made cybersecurity what it is today – take a look at the top 5 events that changed cybersecurity.
The history of cyber security began with a research project. A man named Bob Thomas realized that it was possible for a computer program to move across a network, leaving a small trail wherever it went. He named the program Creeper, and designed it to travel between Tenex terminals on the early ARPANET, printing the message “I’M THE CREEPER: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.”
Let’s clarify, the Creeper wasn’t a real virus, not only because the notion of a computer virus didn’t exist in 1970s, but also because it was actually an experimental self-replicating program, not destined to damage, but to demonstrate a mobile application.
The Creeper program led to further work, including a version by a colleague of Thomas—Ray Tomlinson, that not only moved through the net, but also replicated itself at times. To complement this enhanced Creeper, the Reaper program was created, which moved through the net, replicating itself, and tried to find copies of Creeper and log them out. Thus, if Creeper was the first virus, then Reaper was the first anti-virus software.
Let’s clarify, the Creeper wasn’t a real virus, not only because the notion computer virus didn’t exist in 1970s, but also because it was actually an experimental self-replicating program, not destined to damage, but to demonstrate a mobile application.
2. The Morris Worm
Late in 1988, a man named Robert Morris had an idea: he wanted to gauge the size of the internet. To do this, he wrote a program designed to propagate across networks, infiltrate Unix terminals using a known bug, and then copy itself. This last instruction proved to be a mistake. The Morris worm replicated so aggressively that the early internet slowed to a crawl, causing untold damage.
The Morris worm appears to have been the start of something. After the Morris worm, viruses started getting deadlier and deadlier, affecting more and more systems. It seems as though the worm presaged the era of massive internet outages in which we live. You also began to see the rise of antivirus as a commodity—1987 saw the release of the first dedicated antivirus company.
3. Concept Macro Virus
The first macro virus to be spread in the wild through Microsoft Word was Concept, which was discovered in July 1995. The virus was accidentally included on a CD-ROM called “Microsoft Compatibility Test” shipped by Microsoft to hundreds of corporations in August 1995.
Concept spread to computers in infected Word documents with a .doc extension attached to email messages. From there, the virus infected the English version of Word 6.0 or Word 95 documents that had been saved using the command Save As. Concept did not carry out any damaging actions in affected computers; it just displayed a message on screen when it infected a document.
Another classic example of a macro virus was the Melissa virus first found in March 1999. Melissa was a macro virus that was distributed as an email attachment and spread quickly across the globe. The subject of the email indicated that the message contained a file that the user had requested. When the user opened the attachment, the virus infected the user’s computer and spread to other email messages using macros in Microsoft Word 97, Microsoft Word 2000 files, as well as Microsoft Excel and Outlook.
4. Love Letter Virus
A year after the Melissa virus hit the Internet, a digital menace emerged from the Philippines. Unlike the Melissa virus, this threat came in the form of a worm — it was a standalone program capable of replicating itself. It bore the name ILOVEYOU.
The Love Letter Virus, also known as the Iloveyou virus, ILOVEYOU, and Love Letter, was a computer worm originating in the Philippines, which began infecting computers on May 5, 2000. It spread by e-mail, arriving with the subject line “ILOVEYOU” and an attachment, “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.txt.vbs”. If the attachment was opened, a Visual Basic script was executed, and the computer was infected. Many recipients were fooled because Microsoft Windows concealed the extension of the file, and it was mistaken as a simple text file. Once executed, the script then e-mailed itself to everyone in the victim’s contact list, edited the Windows Registry to execute the worm at startup, and replaced the data in many computer files, including JPEG images and Word documents, with copies of itself.
WannaCry was an unusual strain of ransomware which first appeared in 2017.
Unlike most ransomware we’ve seen in the past 30 years, WannaCry was a computer virus, or more precisely a self-spreading worm, meaning that it replicated all by itself, finding new victims, breaking in and launching on the next computer automatically.
WannaCry broke in across the internet, jumping from network to network and company to company using an exploit – a security bug in Windows that allowed the virus to poke its way in without needing a username or a password.
And not just any exploit – WannaCry used an attack called ETERNALBLUE that was allegedly stolen from the US National Security Agency by a hacking crew known as Shadow Brokers .
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