Looking for the ultimate list with computer virus names? You might feel a little bit overwhelmed, for quite a few reasons. First of all, nobody has ever been able to put together such a list… Second of all, if such a list would truly exist, it would be one that constantly expands.
Moreover, we haven’t even come to a general agreement on how to classify viruses. Some prefer to look at it as to a short classification of several main virus families. Whereas others treat them all individually, counting up to anything between thousands to… tens of millions.
And so, sticking to the most memorable computer virus names is probably the easiest thing to do. By memorable we mean, of course, the first computer virus name, the latest computer virus names, and, why not, perhaps a top 10 computer virus names.
Whether the top 10 would take into account the largest number of affected devices or the highest costs in damages… hard to tell. Because, as we said, one can look at it from so many different angles!
Join us on this quest for the ultimate list of virus names and you’ll see it’s even a tad difficult to spot the first computer virus ever created… About that, there are differences between viruses created for testing in computer labs and viruses released into the wild, affecting other people’s computers.
Isn’t it getting interesting?
How it all began – from the first computer to its first virus
1833 – 1871 – that’s how long it took Charles Babbage, a famous British mathematician, to come up with the Analytical Engine. This device is considered to be the first computer that actually resembles the modern machines that we now call PCs.
The 1960s – the late part of the decade, to be more specific, is when the U.S. Department of Defense was creating and using the ARPANET. This was the first known functional prototype of what we nowadays call Internet. At that time, it allowed packet switching between different computers that were part of the same network.
The 1970s – that’s when two scientists (Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn) came up with the famous TCP/IP, the Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol, which allowed data transmission between different networks.
1983 – it was the time when ARPANET started to work with the TCP/IP communications model, setting the stage for a network of networks. The World Wide Web as we know it was still a bit far in the making process.
1990 – finally, Tim Berners-Lee, computer scientist, created the World Wide Web. It was 8 years AFTER the first computer virus was spot in the wild…
That’s right, the first computer viruses didn’t wait for the Internet to come before they started to cause damage. Or, perhaps, it’s more accurate to say before they started to annoy people since, in the beginning, they weren’t quite disastrous.
The first computer virus name – from theory to practice
We just mentioned that the first virus that was actually bugging people was released in 1982. You’d be surprised, however, to hear that it was the work of a ninth-grader… And that it had nothing to do with all the fancy theories that university lecturers were developing as early as 1949… Without further ado, here’s what we’re talking about:
1949 – John von Neumann from the University of Illinois wrote an essay that described, for the first time, a computer’s program ability to reproduce itself. The essay, in fact, was detailing how such a program could be designed. For the novelty of his ideas, von Neumann was considered the father of computer viruses. A father in theory, of course, since he never got the chance to put it into practice.
1972 – the first person who took the work of von Neumann and put it into practice, Veith Risak, created the first, perfectly functional virus. It was written in an assembler programming language and designed to affect the SIEMENS 404/35 system.
Same early 1970s – the first computer virus name that affected systems within a network was Creeper. Started as an experimental program with self-replicating capabilities, the Creeper was developed by Bob Thomas, in the name of BBN Technologies. It sneaked through the ARPANET and infected the DEC PDP-10 devices running at that time on the TENEX OS.
More specifically, the Creeper would have propagated itself via ARPANET and was displaying a specific message on each infected system – “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!”. Funny or not, to catch the Creeper, they created the Reaper, a dedicated software.
The first viruses on personal computers
So much information and we are only now beginning to get closer to the first computer viruses released into the wild. The ones affecting personal computers and the famous IMB devices…
1982 – Elk Cloner, the work of the ninth-grader Richard Skrenta, started to attach itself to devices operating on Apple DOS 3.3. Spread through floppy disk, the first virus in the wild affecting personal computers was more of a pain in the a** than a pain in the pockets of its victims. The Elk Cloner was simply displaying a short poem on the victims’ computer screens, always with the title “Elk Cloner: The program with a personality”. It was becoming active after the 50th use of the infected floppy disk.
1986 – Brain, a boot sector virus created by Farooq Alvi Brothers in Pakistan, was the first IBM PC virus detected in the wild. According to its creators, it simply had the purpose to prevent the unauthorized copying of their software.
1992 – WinVir, the first virus affecting Microsoft Windows devices, started to play around with DOS interrupts.
1996 – Bizatch (or Boza), the first virus affecting Windows 95 devices, was developed by a group of Australian hackers.
1997 – Win32.Cabanas, the first virus affecting Windows NT devices, was an encrypted, memory-resistant stealth virus. Apparently, it could also compromise Windows 9x and Windows 3.0 devices.
The computer virus name list becomes fuzzier and fuzzier starting from this point, as new programs were being developed.
Some of the nastiest types of computer viruses
That’s right, even at this stage, we keep talking about types of viruses rather than computer virus names per se. In each of the following categories, there are plenty of viruses that can be mentioned. As you can imagine, they all date back to different periods in time. Some had their peak in the past, others are only now poised to soar. All in all, there are…
- Viruses that come with executable files– also known as direct action viruses, they attach to executable files and are only active along with the infected file. They spread on any other executable file they can find and that’s just about all the damage they can cause. Any decent anti-virus program should be able to remove it.
- Viruses that come with executable files and install onto the host– similar with direct action viruses, these ones are, however, significantly more dangerous as they install on the infected device. And so, they can remain active and cause damage even after the source of the infection was deleted. The slow infectors take time to be noticed and cause higher damages whereas the fast infectors cause as much harm as fast as possible, which also makes them easier to spot.
- Viruses that target the boot sector– normally sneak in with removable media, which means they have been around since the floppy disk. Still, they can spread via USB drivers as well, or via e-mail attachments. And because they attack particularly the master boot record, they can be extremely dangerous. Often, the only way to get rid of it is if you perform a full system reset.
- Viruses that come on different channels– such multipartite viruses can target both executable files, like the direct action and resident viruses, and the boot sector. They spread quickly and if they have already infected your boot sector, they will reactivate as soon as you turn on the device. Even if you’ve cleaned it from the executable files on the computer…
- Viruses that overwrite whatever they infect– the overwrite viruses infect any type of file and simply overwrite their content, making it unavailable. If you spot it and you want to get rid of it, again, the solution is to delete that file. Luckily, their glory time was back in the 2000s, even though they can still be found these days, particularly traveling with email content.
- Viruses that fill empty spaces– the spacefiller or cavity viruses would take up the empty space within a file. This means that the antivirus will not be able to detect a change of file size or code. As you can imagine, it will also be way more difficult to spot this type of virus. The bad news is that it’s on the rise and travels particularly with Windows portable executable files.
- Viruses that change their signature with every new replication– the polymorphic viruses are a serious challenge to most antivirus programs that detect viruses by looking into their binary pattern and memorizing it into a definition file. It could take days, weeks, sometimes even months for the antivirus software to find a way to catch a polymorphic virus.
A closer look at the viruses that scared the world
If you’re not impressed with the classification from above, a top 10 computer virus names might do the trick. But here’s the problem, we somehow cannot just boil it down to only 10. So, we added two others on the list and squished two viruses in one position. Just to round it up to a top 13 computer virus names…
- Brain– earlier mentioned in this article regarding the first computer virus names, the Brain seems to really be the first virus for MS-DOS, dating back to 1986. As already explained, it was infecting the boot sector of various devices, propagating itself via floppy disks.
- MorrisWorm – named after its creator, Robert Morris, it started in 1988 as an attempt to prove Unix security flaws. A coding error caused, however, a huge DOS attack on approximately 6000 computers – those were about 10% of the internet-connected devices at that time.
- Conficker(Kido/Downup/Downandup) – a worm for Windows devices, hacking admin passwords and infecting other computers by propagating into a botnet, since 2008. Millions of computers were affected, from over 190 countries, including the networks used by the UK House of Commons and the French Navy.
- Melissa– a virus that caused about $80 million damages, it was developed by David Smith back in 1999. It claimed to be a Word document with passwords for porn websites, which raised curiosity. Once accessed, the devices were sending the mail to the first 50 people in the email address book of the infected users. Consequently, email traffic spikes wreaked havoc even with the email services of many corporations and governments.
- Mydoom– first spotted in January 2004, it is the fastest worm to spread via e-mail since… forever. Yet another attacker of Windows devices, it caused a distributed DOS attack and displayed a message that, as strange as it seemed, didn’t offer much consolation to its victims – “andy; I’m just doing my job, nothing personal, sorry.”.
- ILOVEYOU– a worm for Windows devices transmitted via emails with this subject line, back in the 2000s. It infected one in ten internet users, as a Visual Basic script disguised as a text file.
- AnnaKournikova – a virus concealed as a jpeg image of the famous Russian tennis player who was making the most web searches at the time. It worked just like ILOVEYOU, though it didn’t do much damage other than spreading to all the contacts of the infected users’ Windows Address Book.
- StormWorm – yet another e-mail spreading virus, it used as a bait a false headline about 230 deaths caused by a storm in Europe. The message contained a link to the story which was actually an entrance point for the virus. Once downloaded, it would have turned its host into a bot for email re-distribution of the virus.
- CodeRed – a word that targeted Microsoft IIS devices back in 2001 and that allegedly affected up to 2 million servers (from the total of 6 million servers running on Microsoft IIS), causing $2 billion losses in terms of productivity. “Hacked By Chinese!” was one of the telltales it left on the web pages it was affecting.
- Stuxnet– a virus with dedication, discovered in 2010, affected the software responsible for controlling an Iranian uranium facility. Spread through USB thumb drive, it managed to cause self-destruction in 1,000 centrifuges! Due to an alleged programming error, it was released into the World Wide Web, affecting a lot more than its initial target.
- CryptoLocker– one of the first ransomware, reported since 2013, it wasn’t really so unbreakable with some users claiming to get rid of it using data recovery programs. It didn’t take long for the botnet responsible with its distribution to be disrupted and for its developer to be arrested.
- Sasser and Netsky – two, not one virus, attributed to the same developer, a German student. Sasser was spreading through random IP addresses and Netsky via emails with a harmful attachment. Rumors have it that their creator was hoping to come up with a virus that would spread even faster than the popular-at-the-time Mydoom.
If you’re not discouraged by everything you’ve read and would still like to find out more, perhaps you should stay up to date with the latest computer virus names. Sit back and relax, Bitdefender has a very long list in its virus encyclopedia. Browse it alphabetically or just search for specific computer virus names that you know of.
May these resources be the only places where you’ll ever encounter these computer virus names, without having to personally deal with any of it!