But just as regular viruses have been tormenting the human body since we climbed down from the trees, computer viruses have been around since the first lot of us plugged our PC’s in to the outlet. Now, there’s a whole host of computer viruses out there -- some bad, some really bad, and some not-so-bad. But the viruses below were the worst of the worst.
If you’ve seen the 1995 Angelina Jolie film Hackers, then you’re probably familiar with the computer virus depicted in the film, which is known as The Da Vinci Virus. The Da Vinci Virus was probably a thinly veiled allusion to a real life virus that ran amok a few years earlier in 1992, that was also named after a world famous artist/Ninja Turtle, Michelangelo.
Back in 1991, some computer technicians in New Zealand found a virus on a random computer. The virus they found was designed to attack all DOS-based computers, and it would make a computer seem like it had its hard drive erased, when, in actually, nothing had been erased at all. For the average computer user of the time, this problem was not easily rectified.
For a while, the virus laid dormant. Only a handful of computers were actually infected by it, so no one cared to fix the problem. It wasn’t a blip on anyone’s radar.
In January of 1992, a computer manufacturer accidentally shipped 500 home PC’s out to consumers that had been infected by the Michelangelo virus. Another company did the same thing, but with floppy disks and instead of just 500, they shipped out 900.
500 + 900 = 1,400 infected computers, give or take. So that doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? Right. Well, some “expert” at the Reuters news agency estimated that 25% of all Americas computers would be infected by the virus. Where they got this number is anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to say that this caused a bit of an uproar among personal computer users.
And then it came: On March 6th, 1992, the birthday of Michelangelo, the virus went live. It turned out that the virus was nearly as destructive as it was hyped to be, but caused a fair amount of chaos: 10,000 to 20,000 computers were infected and “lost” their data.
The creator of the virus was never found and Michelangelo is still floating around out there somewhere on the internet. It hasn’t been active since March 6th, 1992.
Unleashed from Taiwan in June of 1998, CIH one of the most dangerous and destructive viruses ever. The virus infected Windows 95, 98, and ME computers and it was able to remain in a PC's memory, where it would infect what’s called ”executables,” a command that performs a certain task according to the coding of the computer.
Unlike Michelangelo, when CIH said it was going to erase your hard drive, it wasn’t all show. It actually did it. And it did…to an incalculable amount of computers worldwide. It would even overwrite your BIOs, rendering our computer useless as it never booted up.
And the worst part is that since the virus attached itself to and attacked executable files (where are in every piece of software out there), it was shipped out on millions of software discs unknowingly, including the anticipated demo for a video game called Sin made by the company Activation.
As I said, the number of computers it damaged is innumerable, but it is estimated the amount of damaged it caused cost between 20 and 80 million dollars.
The creator of the virus was a college student Tatung University in Taipei named Chen Ing Hau (CIH). When he created the virus, his university reprimanded him, but not harshly. Later, Chen discovered that the virus had somehow escaped his reach and had become prevalent. He confessed to creating the virus and apologized to the millions of Chinese citizens that were affected by it. He was never prosecuted because at the time, there were no laws in the Taiwanese constitution regarding computer viruses.
In 200, computer users received e-mails with the subject line “ILOVEYOU.” If one were to open this e-mail and download its attachment, out would spring a virus that would automatically e-mail itself to everyone on your contacts list. Also, once it was opened, it would send your e-mail address and password to its original authors.
And who were the original authors? Two men from the Philippines named Onel de Guzman and Reomel Ramones. And just as it happened with Chen Ing Hau with the CIH virus, so too happened with Onel and Reomel: There were no cyber crime laws in the Philippines, so they got off Scott-free. In fact, Onel was offered several computer programming jobs as a result.
Code Red was a computer worm that was let loose on network servers on July 13, 2001. It was a particularly nasty bug because of its target: Computers running Microsoft Internet Information Server Web server. The worm was able to exploit a specific vulnerability in the server operating system. Ironically, Microsoft had released a patch addressing this problem a month before.
Code Red was designed for maximum damage. Upon infection, the Web site controlled by the affected server would display the message, "Hacked By Chinese!" Then the virus would look for other vulnerable servers and infect them. This would go on for approximately 20 days, and then it would launch denial of service attacks on certain IP addresses, including the White House Web server. In less than a week, this virus infected almost 400,000 servers, and it's estimated that one million total computers were infected. It also infected a number of websites that ran off of Microsoft servers, including AT&T, Hotmail, and the website for Federal Express.
Lastly but not least:
ConfickerConficker, also known as Downadup or Kido, is the latest super virus to spread around the Internet and has security experts in a panic. When last we checked, about a week ago, Conficker had already spread to 9 million PCs, with little sign of slowing. Now it has infected at least 10 million PCs and experts believe there may be up to 350 million vulnerable computers out there.
The worm isn't just exploiting a networking hole, however; it features a sophisticated method of cracking administrator passwords, making it difficult to remove, and also copies itself to USB drives so that it can spread even when the online flaw is plugged.
So far this schizophrenic virus hasn't caused any serious damage. Its primary effect has been to prevent people from installing Windows updates and anti-virus software that could potentially thwart the malware. What worries security experts, though, is Conficker's ability to launch a second stage, downloading additional code that could hijack computers completely, steal personal information, or commit basic extortion -- demanding money for fake anti-virus software claiming to remove the infection.
Since it is currently sitting dormant, possibly awaiting further instructions, Conficker is very difficult to detect without running an up-to-date virus and malware scanner. However, if your Internet connection is running abnormally slowly, if services such as Windows Defender is disabled, or if you are unable to access some security-related Web sites (like those for anti-virus programs), then you may be infected and should certainly follow the removal directions included below.
Conficker has certainly spread far and wide, and gathered its fair share of media attention, but is it the biggest virus ever? That remains to be seen. It is certainly the biggest threat to personal computer security to come along in the last few years and would easily claim a spot on the list.