The first virus ever spotted ‘in the wild’ was the ‘Creeper system’, written by Bob Thomas at BBN Technologies in the early 70s. The virus was an experiment testing the theory of self replication, infecting certain types of computers running the ‘TENEX’ operating system. The Creeper virus wasn’t dangerous at all, printing “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can” on any infected computer was the extent of the virus’ capability. After all, it was only a test to see if programs could be spread through computer networks, there was no need for it to be malicious.
The first malicious virus made hit computers in 1974 in the form of the ‘Rabbit’ virus, named so due to it’s speed. The rabbit virus was designed to not only reproduce itself for spreading purposes, but also to bring the infected computer to a halt by using up precious computing resources like RAM. The virus slowed a computer down exponentially, then eventually caused the computer to crash by taking up all of it’s processing power.
Another notable early malicious virus (created in 1981) was the ‘Elk Cloner’, written by 15 year old high school student Richard Skrenta as a prank. Known as ‘the first large-scale computer virus outbreak in history’, the Elk Cloner virus targeted Apple II systems only (said to be due to it’s weak infrastructure making it susceptible to virus contraction and spreading), printing the following poem onto infected computers:
Elk Cloner: The program with a personality
It will get on all your disks
It will infiltrate your chips
Yes, it's Cloner!
It will stick to you like glue
It will modify RAM too
Send in the Cloner!
Until 1987, when the first antivirus was created, there weren’t many big movements in the virus world. The biggest and most devastating virus up to that point was the ‘Jerusalem virus’, which was first detected in it’s namesake city. The Jerusalem virus, when contracted by a PC, would destroy all .exe files (an executable file, the typical file type for a program) on the computer every time the date was Friday the 13th. The first time this happened, in May of 1988, the virus caused a ‘worldwide epidemic’.
In the same year, the coincidentally named Bernd Fix performed the first removal of a computer virus.
At the end of 1987 there was big movement in the antivirus industry, with the founding of the, now world famous, McAfee company (now owned by Intel) and the creation of first set of antivirus products. G Data Software was reportedly the first to market that year with ‘Ultimate Virus Killer 2000’, shortly followed by McAfee’s ‘Virus Scan’.
The popularity of viruses exponentially grew year on year, with almost 30,000 malware samples in 1994 (according to AV-TEST). The figure grew to almost 100,000 in 1999, 333,000 in 2005, 5,500,000 in 2007. In 2013, the number grew 300,000 to 500,000 every day!
Fast forward to 2016. Today, there are countless amounts of companies offering antivirus solutions, all of which have many different products for different operating systems and devices.