The humble computer virus

Did you know that computer viruses are almost as old as computers themselves? A computer virus is a small piece of code that can replicate itself by attaching itself to a host. Most people use the term ‘computer virus’ to refer to all malicious software. But, computer viruses are actually just one type of malware. Malware is any type of software that is designed to disrupt, damage or allow unauthorised access to your systems.

Nowadays, cyber criminals use a variety of malware to attack their targets.

Besides the commonly known virus, other types of malware include:

  • Ransomware which will block or restrict access to your system until a sum of money is paid to the attacker.
  • Spyware/ Adware which is a program that enables an attacker to obtain any information found on your system. It will seek and then transfer information straight from your hard drive, to your attackers.
  • Worms are independent self-replicating pieces of code that do not require a host to copy themselves, they ‘worm’ their way through your system and your network, continuously looking for vulnerabilities and reporting them back to the worm author.
  • Trojans, or Trojan Horses are programs that are often disguised as a legitimate program (for example, virus removal) but actually perform malicious activity when executed.

But the humble virus is, in fact, the earliest known malware invented.

The first idea of self-replicating programs was first bought to light by John Von Neumann, known as the ‘Father of Cybernetics’, when he wrote an article on the ‘Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata’, published in 1966. Von Neumann’s theories were astoundingly ahead of his time, it was from his cellular automata ideas, which originally applied to biological viruses, that he imagined self-reproducing automata that could affect computers. Particularly impressive forward thinking when you consider that in 1966 computers were still a relatively new technology.

1971 The Creeper

One of the first self-replicating computer viruses was invented by Bob Thomas in 1971. He developed an experimental self-replicating program which he named ‘The Creeper’ which could access systems through the ARPNET (The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a predecessor of the internet we know and love today. The Creeper virus copied itself from a remote host system and displayed the message ‘I’m the creeper, catch me if you can’. Interestingly, this particular computer virus lead to the birth of the first ever antivirus, which was called ‘Reaper’ and was designed exclusively to remove the Creeper virus from infected computers.

1983 Fred Cohen

In 1983, Fred Cohen got the world thinking about cyber security when he demonstrated the effectivity of a virus he had made himself. During a security seminar at the Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, USA, Cohen inserted a small piece of code into a UNIX command and advocated the importance of cyber security by successfully demonstrating how his virus could completely take over a computers system in under an hour.

2000 ILOVEYOU

Fast forward to the millennium and the development of new technologies bought new types of malware, such as worms to the computer world. The ILOVEYOU worm may sound all sweetness and light but it was in fact a deadly virus that packed one hell of a punch. It was delivered in an email with a subject line that simply said ‘I LOVE YOU’. The virus downloaded on to the user’s system when they clicked the attachment claiming to be a love letter. Once opened, the ‘love letter’ would send itself to everyone in the user’s mailing list and would then search the user’s system and replace files with copies of itself.  The virus wreaked havoc on computer systems all over the world, and caused damages believed to total around 10 billion dollars (£7.5 billion).

In 2017, malware is more advanced than ever, barely a week will pass by without a cyber-attack hitting the news.

Prevention, quite simply, is better than the cure. Educating your employees on cyber security, and ensuring they are taking the necessary steps to protect your business can be all that’s needed to prevent an attack, or at least minimise its damage.

Our top 5 steps to preventing modern malware infections:

  1. Have the latest, reputable antivirus software installed on every device you use, in 2017 even mobiles aren’t free from malware attacks.
  2. Authenticate emails and attachments before downloading anything.
  3. Prioritise system updates, don’t ignore that pop up or put off updates. Software updates include important security patches that keep your system safe.
  4. Run regular security scans that will alert you to, and remove anything that has managed to infiltrate your systems.
  5. Make sure you have an up to date, effective firewall that can prevent any unwanted malware infecting your system.

If you have any questions about keeping your business safe from malware, get in touch with our team on 0800 9520652 or email technical@scstechsolutions.co.uk.