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A Short History of Computer Viruses and Attacks
Brian Krebs, Washington Post 2003-02-14

1945: Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper discovers a moth trapped between relays

in a Navy computer. She calls it a "bug," a term used since the late 19th

century to refer to problems with electrical devices. Murray Hopper also coined

the term "debugging" to describe efforts to fix computer problems.

1949: Hungarian scientist John von Neumann (1903-1957) devises the

theory of self-replicating programs, providing the theoretical foundation for

computers that hold information in their "memory."

1960: AT&T introduces its Dataphone, the first commercial modem.

1963: Programmers develop the American Standard Code for Information

Interchange (ASCII), a simple computer language that allows machines

produced by different manufacturers to exchange data.

1964: AT&T begins monitoring telephone calls to try to discover the identities

of "phone freaks," or "phreakers," who use "blue boxes" as tone generators to

make free phone calls. The team's surveillance chief tells Newsweek magazine in

1975 that the company monitored 33 million toll calls to find phreakers. AT&T

scores 200 convictions by the time the investigation ends in 1970.

1969: Programmers at AT&T's Bell Laboratories develop the UNIX

operating system, the first multi-tasking operating system.

1969: The Advanced Research Projects Agency launches ARPANET, an early network

used by government research groups and universities, and the

forerunner of the Internet.

1972: John Draper, soon to be known as "Captain Crunch," discovers that the

plastic whistle in a box of breakfast cereal reproduces a 2600-hertz tone. With

a blue box, the whistle unlocks AT&T's phone network, allowing free calls and

manipulation of the network. Among other phreakers of the 1970s is famous

future hacker Kevin Mitnick.

1972: Future Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak builds his own

"blue box." Wozniak sells the device to fellow University of

California-Berkeley students.

1974: Telenet, a commercial version of ARPANET, debuts.

1979: Engineers at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center discover the

computer "worm," a short program that scours a network for idle processors.

Designed to provide more efficient computer use, the worm is the ancestor of

modern worms -- destructive computer viruses that alter or erase data on

computers, often leaving files irretrievably corrupted.

1983: The FBI busts the "414s," a group of young hackers who

break into several U.S. government networks, in some cases using only

an Apple II+ computer and a modem.

1983: University of Southern California doctoral candidate Fred Cohen coins the

term "computer virus" to describe a computer program that

can "affect other computer programs by modifying them in such a way as

to include a (possibly evolved) copy of itself." Anti-virus makers

later capitalize on Cohen's research on virus defense techniques.

1984: In his novel, "Neuromancer," author William Gibson popularizes

the term "cyberspace," a word he used to describe the network of computers

through which characters in his futuristic novels travel.

1986: One of the first PC viruses ever created, "The Brain," is

released by programmers in Pakistan.

1988: Twenty-three-year-old programmer Robert Morris unleashes a worm that

invades ARPANET computers. The small program disables roughly 6,000 computers

on the network by flooding their memory banks with copies of itself. Morris

confesses to creating the worm out of boredom. He is fined $10,000 and

sentenced to three years' probation.

1991: Programmer Philip Zimmerman releases "Pretty Good Privacy"

(PGP), a free, powerful data-encryption tool. The U.S. government begins a

three-year criminal investigation on Zimmerman, alleging he broke U.S.

encryption laws after his program spread rapidly around the globe. The

government later drops the charges.

1991: Symantec releases the Norton Anti-Virus software.

1994: Inexperienced e-mail users dutifully forward an e-mail warning

people not to open any message with the phrase "Good Times" in the subject

line. The missive, which warns of a virus with the power to erase a recipient's

hard drive, demonstrates the self-replicating power of e-mail virus hoaxes that

continue to circulate in different forms today.

1995: Microsoft Corp. releases Windows 95. Anti-virus companies worry that the

operating system will be resistant to viruses. Later in the year, however,

evolved "macro" viruses appear that are able to corrupt the new Windows

operating system.

1998: Intruders infiltrate and take control of more than 500 military,

government and private sector computer systems. The incidents -- dubbed "Solar

Sunrise" after the well-known vulnerabilities in computers run on the Sun

Solaris operating system -- were thought to have originated from operatives in

Iraq. Investigators later learn that two California teenagers were behind the

attacks. The experience gives the Defense Department its first taste of what

hostile adversaries with greater skills and resources would be able to do to

the nation's command and control center, particularly if used in tandem with

physical attacks.

1999: The infamous "Melissa" virus infects thousands of computers with alarming

speed, causing an estimated $80 million in damage and prompting record sales of

anti-virus products. The virus starts a program that sends copies of itself to

the first 50 names listed in the recipient's Outlook e-mail address book. It also infects Microsoft Word documents on the user's hard drive, and mails them

out through Outlook to the same 50 recipients.

May 2000: The "I Love You" virus infects millions of computers virtually

overnight, using a method similar to the Melissa virus. The virus also

sends passwords and usernames stored on infected computers back to the

virus's author. Authorities trace the virus to a young Filipino

computer student, but he goes free because the Philippines has no laws

against hacking and spreading computer viruses. This spurs the

creation of the European Union's global Cybercrime Treaty.

2000: Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, Datek and dozens of other high-profile Web sites are

knocked offline for up to several hours following a series

of so-called "distributed denial-of-service attacks." Investigators

later discover that the DDOS attacks -- in which a target system is

disabled by a flood of traffic from hundreds of computers

simultaneously -- were orchestrated when the hackers co-opted powerful

computers at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

2001: The "Anna Kournikova" virus, promising digital pictures of the

young tennis star, mails itself to every person listed in the victim's

Microsoft Outlook address book. This relatively benign virus frightens

computer security analysts, who believe it was written using a

software "toolkit" that allows even the most inexperienced programmer

to create a computer virus.

July 2001: The Code Red worm infects tens of thousands of systems running

Microsoft Windows NT and Windows 2000 server software, causing an

estimated $2 billion in damages. The worm is programmed to use the

power of all infected machines against the White House Web site at a

predetermined date. In an ad hoc partnership with virus hunters and

technology companies, the White House deciphers the virus's code and

blocks traffic as the worm begins its attack.

2001: Debuting just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the "Nimda" virus infects

hundreds of thousands of computers around the world. The virus

is considered one of the most sophisticated, with up to five methods

of infecting systems and replicating itself.

2001: President Bush appoints Richard Clarke to serve as America's

first cybersecurity "czar."

2002: Melissa virus author David L. Smith, 33, is sentenced to 20

months in federal prison.

2002: The "Klez" worm -- a bug that sends copies of itself to all of

the e-mail addresses in the victim's Microsoft Outlook directory -- begins its

march across the Web. The worm overwrites files and creates hidden copies of

the originals. The worm also attempts to disable some common anti-virus

products and has a payload that fills files with all zeroes. Variants of the

Klez worm remain the most active on the Internet.

2002: A denial-of-service attack hits all 13 of the "root" servers

that provide the primary roadmap for almost all Internet communications.

Internet users experience no slowdowns or outages because of safeguards built

into the Internet's architecture. But the attack -- called the largest ever --

raises questions about the security of the core Internet infrastructure.

Jan. 2003: The "Slammer" worm infects hundreds of thousands of

computers in less than three hours. The fastest-spreading worm ever

wreaks havoc on businesses worldwide, knocking cash machines offline

and delaying airline flights.

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