Malwares, Worms, and Self-replicating Bugs: The Roots and Legend of the Modern Computer Viruses
Over the years, more and more people are becoming more adept and fascinated with computer and computer technologies. Numerous in computer applications have already been built to make people’s everyday concerns like communication, research, and business transactions easier and way more efficient. Looking back on how computer affected the lives of over billions of people worldwide, it can indeed be inferred that having such a technology can be considered as part of the modern individual’s everyday living. However, being dependent on technology also posts several problems, especially when one encounters a system downfall and technical difficulty. This would oftentimes cause delay and degraded quality of work which may eventually affect all the other processes in work, business, and personal lives of people since computers have already penetrated their everyday course of life.
There are numerous problems people often experience with computers and its applications, and these are what software companies and computer experts aim to address. One notable computer dilemma that has been noted to create a dramatic effect in history is the computer virus. In the earlier times, this subject has been a very curious topic of research and study that is now understood and well explained. However, many people are still in a state of predicament about these computer viruses wondering where did these computer bugs come from, what exactly are these viruses made of, what are their effects on their personal computers, to what extent can these viruses damage their computers, and how can they prevent the widespread of such computer bugs.
What is a Computer Virus?
When people hear the word “virus,” most of them might immediately think of flu, colds, viral infection, and viral contamination. When the word “computer virus” was first introduced to the computer-fascinated society, people wondered whether these viruses work the same way as human viruses do. However, since a lot of computer sciences have already been established today, this concept has been studied thoroughly enough that one can obtain a clear and concrete explanation for it. A computer virus, compared to human virus, does not have a tangible figure like grime or a fluid-like, viscous substance which makes people feel sick once they acquire it. Computer viruses are more like codes which are encrypted to some parts of a computer operating system or program to perform some hidden, system-destructing actions (Berger). Like a human virus, it also acts like a parasite in the form of a program which is intentionally written to penetrate a computer’s system to fulfill its further objective of replicating and spreading (Symantec qtd. in University of Texas at Austin ACTLab, 1996).
Today, there can are numerous kinds of virus which have different ways of replication and infection and different ways of damaging computer systems. Modern researches found viruses such as (1) Boot viruses which infect floppy and hard disks; (2) Program viruses which infect executable programs that contain extensions like .BIN, .COM, .EXE, .OVL, .DRV and .SYS; (3) Multipartite viruses which appear to perform both the functions of Boot and Program viruses; (4) Stealth viruses which use certain strategies so that people would not be able to detect them; (5) Polymorphic viruses which have several ways of encrypting their code to their host computer which makes them appear different in every infection; (6) Macro viruses which are a relatively new group of viruses that infect through a single document or template; and (7) Active X which people know nowadays as friendly ActiveX and Java controls but is seen to conquer computers and computer networks in the future due to its capabilities and access to web browsers (Kamat, 2001). Knowing how many viruses there are in our computer systems today, it will definitely bother people thinking what else these smart bugs can do In learning about these things, it would be useful to trace where exactly these computer viruses came from so that people can understand their nature.
The Roots and Origins of the Computer Virus
As the computer-frenzy population of the world today is faced by the annoying and bothersome effects of the many computer viruses, there is an increasing effort to understand the nature of malicious computer bugs and prevent worse damages in the future. One of these efforts is by tracing back their origins. The development of the computer viruses was seen to be as fast as how computers developed through the years. Many computer analysts and researchers say that the birth of the first viruses happened before the 1980’s; however, many still argue about when exactly these viruses came to existence (Tipton & Krause, 2008). In this quest to trace the origins of the computer viruses, it is important to take into account the history of the computer itself. The introduction of personal computers can be traced back to the mid 1970’s, a time when the Internet did not exist. During that time, computers were designed to suit a personal lifestyle; in contrast, modern computers were built to connect to a network of millions of other computer and internet users (Salomon, 2006). It was only when the floppy disk drives have been invented when the first ever viruses proliferated. These first viruses were known as Apple viruses 1, 2 and 3 which were found within the Apple operating system back in 1981 which spread through Texas A&M by some pirated computer games (Infoplease, 2007).
After the birth of these viruses, a lot of other viruses began emerging from all over the World Wide Web. It was in 1983 when Fred Cohen, who is now a significant figure in the field of Information Technology, finally defined a computer virus as “a computer program that can affect other computer programs by modifying them in such a way as to include a (possibly evolved) copy of itself” (qtd. in Infoplease, 2007). As more computer-liberated years passed, the nature of the computer viruses became more and more complicated. Also, the encryption and the functions of the viruses seemed to become more intentional by the ages. It was also within this time frame when people started being skillful of making computer software programs on their own, while file sharing started becoming popular. Consequently, hackers began to become active in penetrating the U.S. government’s computer systems by this time. This was also the time when the ever popular Trojan horse programs came on the rise (Norton Security Store, 2008). In 1988, the first major outbreak in Macintosh was noted. One of the world’s more common computer bugs, the Jerusalem, also came into existence. Peculiarly activated every Friday the 13th, it damages every .exe and .com files and relentlessly deletes any program that runs on the said day (Infoplease, 2007).
More and more innovative years passed and people became increasingly curious and inquisitive about computer programs as well. Thus, by 1992, the information technologists surprised the computer loving public for reporting a total of 1,300 computer viruses out in the wild. They also reported a 420% increase in the total number of existent viruses from December of 1990. Also, 1992 was marked by the creation of The Dark Avenger Mutation Engine or DAME which acts like a toolkit that transforms ordinary viruses into polymorphic ones, performing different damages in every infection. Moreover, sufficing the demands of computer virus-frenzy programmers, the Virus Creation Laboratory or VCL which was actually the very first actual virus creation kit, was made (Infoplease, 2007). This worried most analysts since this tool kit was foreseen to enable even the youngest and the most inexpert programmers to design very harmful computer bugs. However, no matter how hard they conducted researches and tests, no program or anti-virus ever controlled the development of the computer bug epidemic on the world’s computers. Then came the year 2000 which was the time when the controversial Millennium Love Bug or the Y2K bug—as it was known in other countries—was discovered. The Love bug, which was also known as the “I love you” virus, replicates and spreads through the Microsoft Outlook program, appearing as a VBS attachment. While its name sounds sweet, it harshly wipes out MP3, MP2, and JPG files in the computer. It also has this hidden function of sending all the computer’s usernames and passwords to its author. This virus was observed to have some similar qualities with that of the earlier Melissa virus which was reported to infect over a million personal computers in 1999 (Infoplease, 2007). The Y2k bug was so controversial that it scared almost the entire computer-utilizing population because of the spreading rumor that that it would cause a colossal breakdown in the world systems, and that it will also reset the world’s time. However, history has proven that this was just a rumor and never came to reality (Infoplease, 2007).
At the dawn of the 21st century, more and more viruses were introduced to the more computer-literate society. As years passed, the damage that these viruses created appears to become increasingly serious. In 2004, high institutions like multi-national companies, airways, banks, and government offices including the British Coastguard was affected and swayed by such computer bugs and worms (Infoplease, 2007). Companies were even willing to reward any individual hundred thousands of dollars just to acquire relevant pieces of information about the hackers who have invaded their systems (Infoplease, 2007).
As the current modern society deals with every computer problems which, more often than not, are caused by different types of viruses, the necessity for an average person to understand processes associated with the computer and the internet has become crucial as well (Bidgoli, 2004). Just like a human virus, the computer bugs may become more powerful by the years and eventually take the computer systems to a case of electronic epidemic, resulting in several shutdowns, information thefts, and system breakdowns. The future damages and effects these computer bugs might do can neither be easily predicted nor foreseen. Thus, this shows that with the great power that the internet and the computer systems wield comes the great need for internet security and internet literacy as well, since the power of the World Wide Web also appears to strengthen the capacities of different computer programmers to design complicated and destructive computer bugs.
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