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20 Years Of PC Viruses

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first PC virus. We look back at the highs and the lows (well, mostly the lows) of the ongoing struggle against malware.

In the first half of the 1980s, computer viruses -- programs that reproduce themselves by "infecting" other programs -- existed mostly in labs. A few had managed to find their way into the wild on the Apple II platform, but for the most part they were tightly controlled by computer researchers.

20 Years Of PC Viruses


 A Brief History Of Viral Time

 The 10 Most Destructive Viruses

 Early Days On The Antivirus Front

 What To Do In A Malware Attack

 Virus Image Gallery

 Virus Timeline

And then came Brain. Discovered in the first weeks of 1986, it was the first PC virus to widely circulate in the wild. Distributed via 5.25-inch floppy diskettes, Brain's spread was extremely slow by today's standards -- but it unleashed a tide of ever-more harmful viruses, worms, and other malware that we're still struggling with 20 years later.

To bring the last two decades of malware into sharp focus, we've put together a package of fascinating and detailed stories:

A Brief History Of Viral Time chronicles how malware has evolved over the past 20 years, from one-trick viruses that spread via floppy disks, through mass-mailing worms that took advantage of users' e-mail contacts, up to today's devious spyware, rootkits, and more. Be sure not to miss the in-depth Flash timeline of virus milestones on the first page. (If you'd rather see the timeline in a small pop-up window, click here.)

The 10 Most Destructive Viruses Of All Time is, well, a chronological look at some of the most destructive viruses of all time. These were the viruses and worms that brought businesses to their knees and caused massive Internet slowdowns.

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Early Days On The Antivirus Front: A Personal Perspective is a firsthand account by AV programmer Ross M. Greenberg of what it was like to fight viruses when they first reared their ugly heads. Many talented people jumped into the fray against these nasty critters, establishing the techniques and tools we still use today for malware protection.

Having a response plan in place can mean the difference between a major catastrophe and a minor annoyance for businesses. Malware Responses: What To Do Before, During, And After An Attack is a downloadable guide for IT staff on how to protect their companies from attacks.

Finally, our Virus Image Gallery provides screenshots of viruses in action -- including some bugs that didn't do much harm but are a lot of fun to look at.

So grab a cup of joe, sit back, and take our tour of the last 20 years of PC viruses. Hold on tight -- it's a bumpy ride.

-- Valerie Potter

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