The brains behind the first PC virus

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Next year marks the 30th anniversary of the debut of Elk Cloner, the first microcomputer virus. It was created for the Apple II in 1982 by Rich Skrenta, who was only 15 at the time. Unlike modern viruses, which can disable networks and cripple businesses, Elk Cloner was fairly harmless, presenting a poem upon the fiftieth boot of an infected disk. Skrenta has since created a Web site that offers Elk Cloner as both a disk image and source code.

It was four years after Elk Cloner’s release that the emerging PC platform caught its own virus. The Brain virus, like its Apple II predecessor, was a harmless boot sector virus that renamed the infected disk. But unlike most viruses of unknown origin, Brain contained the contact information of its creators. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of its release, USA Today published this video by F-Secure, in which researcher Mikko Hypponen travels to Pakistan to interview the virus’s creators, Amjad Farooq Alvi and Basit Farooq Alvi:

I was intrigued to note the similarities between the two viruses, created in different countries for different platforms and without knowledge of each other. The technology of the era prevented swift distribution, yet even with the manual distribution and transportation of floppies, these viruses spread throughout the world and exist to this day. Both were created with mischief in mind, not malice. But is there a difference? Both qualify as the unauthorized reconfiguration of a third party’s hardware or software. To what degree do the ends absolve the means? Could a new Apple II virus be created today without anyone upsetting anyone?