Since 2017, November 3 has been celebrated as Antimalware Day. Established by ESET, Antimalware Day aims to honor the work done by researchers in the field of information security and in the technology industry as a whole. As ours is an era in which technology plays a crucial role and is found in almost everything that surrounds us, this special date is also intended to highlight the importance of protecting users from cyberthreats and increasing their awareness of dangers on the Internet.
As part of our celebration of Antimalware Day, we will review how the concept of a computer virus came into being, examine the first active threat and the first antivirus software, as well as look back at some of the most important cybersecurity threats of the past four decades.
How Antimalware Day came to be
November 3 was declared as Antimalware Day in order to honor the work of those who coined the term "computer virus" and laid the groundwork for research into computer threats. They are Frederick Cohen, then a graduate student in Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC) who created self-replicating code on November 3, 1983, and his Ph.D. advisor, Professor Leonard Adleman, who decided to baptize that code as a computer virus. As part of their work, Cohen wrote a paper in 1984 that was called "Computer Viruses – Theory and Experiments". It became the first research paper to use the term “computer virus”.
Although others had performed tests and developed malicious programs even before Adleman and Cohen came up with the term, there was no way at the time to know that others were engaging in experiments of this kind, as Adleman said in an interview for WeLiveSecurity.
At any rate, one of the first active malicious programs that began to be used outside the laboratory or the computer on which it was created was called "Elk Cloner" and it was the work of Rich Skrenta in 1982. According to an article published by NBC News, many think that this was the first real computer virus, since it spread to several home computers at the time. "Elk Cloner" was followed in 1986 by “Brain”, the first virus to infect IBM PCs. Brain infected the boot sector of a floppy disk, which allowed it to propagate and reach several parts of the world within a few weeks. In addition, it was the first computer virus that used stealth techniques.
How malware and cybersecurity came to be
Naturally, all this activity resulted in the need for protective measures, which led to the emergence of a cybersecurity industry that aimed to develop solutions safeguarding computer users from threats. Even though it isn’t certain which antivirus software was the very first in history, it is a German company called G Data Software that is credited with developing the first antivirus solution in 1987 – a program for the Atari ST line of home computers. Indeed, also in 1987: the first virus discovered by Peter Paško and Miroslav Trnka, dubbed Vienna, led to the development of the NOD32 antivirus program; Paško and Trnka later became the co-founders of ESET.
Ever since, malware and the cybersecurity industry have never stopped evolving. Over the years, there have been threats that had lasting effects and marked an era, such as the Morris worm in the late 1980s, Michelangelo in the 1990s, LoveLetter (aka ILoveYou) in 2000, and all the way until the present day with other infamous threats, including WannaCryptor aka WannaCry.
Over the course of this month, the WeLiveSecurity team will take advantage of Antimalware Day and International Security Day (observed annually on November 30) to publish one article each Monday in November in which we will explore some of the most notorious computer threats of the past four decades.