A Brief History of Antivirus Software

October 13, 2013 | by

Since the first line of code began to run there have been those who excelled at understanding it more than others. This fascination and obsession with technology has much to do with why we have seen such an expansive introduction of computer viruses, malicious code, and hacking tactics.

The term “hacker” was originally coined for those who loved to tinker; they were the ones that would open the piece of hardware and try their best to understand the individual parts. Eventually the media took the term, reappropriated it and applied it to those with malicious intent.

Today, we have a range of attacks aimed at lifting personal data or causing havoc. The list includes keyloggers, trojan horses, worms, botnets, spyware, rootkits, adware, etc. Physical intrusions and social engineering has also played a role in a hacker’s ability to gain remote access to hardware.

One of the first major outbreaks of a computer virus was named Brain and with it came the birth of the antivirus industry. The history of computer viruses is a story within its own right, but let’s keep the focus on the software used to remove viruses and some of the notable reasons why it came about.

The Early Days

Early computer viruses rarely had malicious intent. It was really much more about the fact that it could be created over why it was created. Eventually, as the techniques began to spread, these intentions turned toward malicious intent.

By 1987 there were two antivirus utilities available:

·  Flushot Plus

·  Anti4us

During the same year the “STONED Virus” began to take hold due to the availability of its source code. This caused many troubles for companies that did not have a system in place to handle massive infection, which was very easy to transmit when exchanging data between systems.

Between 1987 and 1989, a group called “Virus-L” was being used to update individuals about security and sharing information, tools, and shareware to help remove the virus infection. Two individuals on this list were John McAfee and Eugene Kaspersky; in 1989 John McAfee went on to start his own business selling software that protects both hardware and software. These days, the importance of antivirus software grows with each passing year.

Other software brands, such as Kaspersky and Norton, were introduced to the market with success.

However, security flaws in earlier versions of operating systems we’ve all come to know and love were very prevalent. The lack of communication resulted in major losses as computers became increasingly adopted in business and at home.

The Transition

Enter … the Internet.

If handling computer viruses and malicious attacks were difficult enough on a closed system … it was pure hell once everyone became connected through an online connection.

The ability to send email, download programs, and run coded scripts gave hackers the chance to infect and steal data from anywhere in the world without needing physical access to systems. Unknowing users were and still are often the ones who aid in the spread of these viruses.

Notable items that happened in the 90’s and 00’s include:

·  The “Michelangelo” virus designed to infect DOS systems

·  “Concept”, which was aimed to attack Microsoft Word documents

·  The “Melisa” virus, which was one of the early, mass shared virus through email

·  The ILOVEYOU worm that reached millions

·  Anna Kournikova virus that replicated quickly by resending itself through Outlook contacts

·  The SQL Slammer worm that attacked Microsoft SQL and MSDE, which crashed the Internet.

·  Conficker, which infected millions of Microsoft server systems (and also spawned variants)

With the changing landscape of distribution, antivirus software began to make advancements in detections and gained the ability to update update itself online, which improved effectiveness.

These advancements came through in many areas, including:

·  Signature-based detection

·  Heuristics

·  Rootkit detection

·  Real-time protection

The introduction of the web also allowed for an expansion into cloud-based antivirus, network firewalls, online scanning, and specialty tools aimed at removing specific files and issues with a computer or network. Some say that heightened security on a server level removes much of the problem but we can’t expect to see an end to software, for personal use, any time soon. Not as long as malicious intent is out there, and who predicts an end to that?

To summarize the entire history of antivirus in a single post is a challenge but hopefully you have learned a few new things about the industry that may give you a greater appreciation how dedicated individual and companies are to the safety of computer usage. The future will bring new challenges, that’s for sure, so keep an eye out for new changes.


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