A Brief History of Computer Viruses

Remember those black DOS screens? You might find it hard to believe but computer viruses had been there before them.

Over time, however, they have gotten advanced, thanks to cybercriminals. Today’s sophisticated malware and virus programs have the power to hack an entire security facility.

Let’s take you back in time and discuss how computer viruses have evolved over the years:

The Self-Replicating Automata

It was in the late 1940s that the idea of self-reproducing virus programs came to the fore. John von Neumann, who is also considered the father of Cybernetics, wrote an article about the possibility of a self-replicating virus program.

It was a sort of thought experiment that guessed that it could be possible that a mechanical organism—a computer code—could make machines dysfunctional, copy themselves and then do the same with other machines, similar to the biological virus.

The Creeper Program

Created by Bob Thomas in 1971, the creeper program has the honor of being known as the first computer virus.

It was accessed from the giant computers at ARPANET (The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). The program did not have any malicious purposes. After infecting the machine, it just displayed a message, “I AM THE CREEPER, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN!”

The Rabbit Virus

However, the Rabbit (or Wabbit) virus did have malicious intent. It was designed to replicate itself, hamper the system’s performance and finally, crash it. The virus got its name due to its speed (in case you were wondering).


Also regarded as the first Trojan, ANIMAL was created by a programmer named John Walker in 1975.

The program asked 20 questions and, based on the answers given by people, predicted what animal they were thinking about. The programmer wanted to send it to his friend, which meant creating copies.

For this reason, he incorporated another program called PERVADE in the software. PERVADE checked all directories in the system and created a copy of the ANIMAL in a directory where is it was not present. Although it had no malicious intent, the program fitted the definition of a Trojan.

The LoveLetter Virus

Fast forward to the 21st century, email viruses had become quite popular.

Created in May, 2000, the LoveLetter virus was unlike any of the email viruses developed earlier. It was received as an email attachment in VBS file form. At that time, users were not as wary of emails (and also because the subject line said, ‘I Love You’), they opened them. As soon as the email was opened, it created copies of itself and got sent to the person’s entire contact list. The people in the contact list were more likely to open the email as it came from a familiar source (simple, yet elegant).

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