Prank Starts 25 Years of Security Woes

What began as a ninth-grade prank, a way to trick already-suspicious friends who had fallen for his earlier practical jokes, has earned Rich Skrenta notoriety as the first person ever to let loose a personal computer virus. Although over the next 25 years, Skrenta started the online news business Topix, helped launch a collaborative Web directory now owned by Time Warner Inc.'s Netscape and wrote countless other computer programs, he is still remembered most for unleashing the "Elk Cloner" virus on the world. "It was some dumb little practical joke," Skrenta, now 40, said in an interview. "I guess if you had to pick between being known for this and not being known for anything, I'd rather be known for this. But it's an odd placeholder for (all that) I've done."

"Elk Cloner" - self-replicating like all other viruses - bears little resemblance to the malicious programs of today. Yet in retrospect, it was a harbinger of all the security headaches that would only grow as more people got computers - and connected them with one another over the Internet. Skrenta's friends were already distrusting him because, in swapping computer games and other software as part of piracy circles common at the time, Skrenta often altered the floppy disks he gave out to launch taunting on-screen messages. Many friends simply started refusing disks from him. So during a winter break from the Mt. Lebanon Senior High School near Pittsburgh, Skrenta hacked away on his Apple II computer - the dominant personal computer then - and figured out how to get the code to launch those messages onto disks automatically.

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News source: Physorg

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34 Comments

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The issue with your statement is that Vista can run pre-Vista viruses. OS X can't run pre-OS X viruses without a copy of OS 9 installed. It's too different.

PureLegend said,
The issue with your statement is that Vista can run pre-Vista viruses. OS X can't run pre-OS X viruses without a copy of OS 9 installed. It's too different.

LMAO OK i really think vista has been patched so that pretty much all the vulnerabilites that have been previously used by viruses have been patched, whcih means you really can't get a 98 virus on vista.

LMAO, and apples are the most secure computers, LMAO.

The virus arguments all become mute as it all started on apple I guess people cared about hacking macs back then when "Apple II computer - the dominant personal computer then" was the dominant computer, sort of proves the whole point that people hack the most popular boxes

No.

Facts assumed as evidence. Hint: You shouldn't do that.

"Sort of proves" . . . proves nothing. It's incidental.

Arguments become "moot", not "mute."

That virus was indeed made on an Apple, and it is purported to be the first, if not among the first.

Yet . . .

Number of Windows viruses documented to date: 114307
Number of OS X viruses to documented to date: 0

It all boils down to that.

TO ALL WOULD-BE OS X VIRUS-WRITERS:

6+ years and we're still waiting.

LTD said,
Number of Windows viruses documented to date: 114307
Number of OS X viruses to documented to date: 0

It all boils down to that.

SO damn typical, i could have almost writen this myself for you.

You say windwos viruses (grouping all 98/95/NT/2000/xp/vista/ etc) viruse into one
then you say OSX (so 1 oS)

i woudl be more interested in how many vista viruses or XP.

or even if you had the balls, all apple viruses ever, but i spose apple never had a virus, oh wait thats what this whole article was about

<snipped>

I think all of the "Attention Whore" crap is coming from the people in this thread trolling back and forth about Windows vs. Linux vs. Mac for the 80,000,000th fricken time.

There's no basis for an arguement here. People hack Windows because it's more widely used - bar none. It has nothing to do with security. Windows is built on EAL 4 security layers by default, no different than any of the other 2 operating systems in question.

You can take this to an even grander scale by saying if terrorists had crashed a bus in to a McDonalds on 9/11 - How many of us would care? How much media attention would it have gotten?

Discussion over.

Primetime2006 said,
I think all of the "Attention Whore" crap is coming from the people in this thread trolling back and forth about Windows vs. Linux vs. Mac for the 80,000,000th fricken time.

There's no basis for an arguement here. People hack Windows because it's more widely used - bar none. It has nothing to do with security. Windows is built on EAL 4 security layers by default, no different than any of the other 2 operating systems in question.

You can take this to an even grander scale by saying if terrorists had crashed a bus in to a McDonalds on 9/11 - How many of us would care? How much media attention would it have gotten?

Discussion over.

<snipped>, I'm not trying to offend you and am only stating the obvious. Before you go spouting useless fud would you mind providing any reputable or valid links to back your claim up?

Fact is, like it was said before Windows was founded on a weak and insecure code base gradually building on top of previous incarnations with more features and added security. Linux or Mac was built on a strong and more secure code base gradually improving over the years fixing exploits almost instantly. Linux/Mac have never been mass exploited and they have been out as long, if not longer than Windows. Mac or Apple maybe has been mass exploited at one point, but the percentage is extremely small compared to the vast amount of mass exploits, worms, trojans, spyware, adware that could be contracted on previous versions of Windows prior to Vista even just by browsing the web.

Market share is just another attempt at a poor excuse of blind brand loyalty towards Windows in an attempt to bash other OS's or people who don't agree with your false unverified dirt (Fud) you keep spewing because of being blind to the obvious truth in front of you.

Granted Vista is a lot better than previous Windows and has actually done something right, it still doesn't hold a candle to the Security and Stability in the Linux/Mac operating systems besides the obvious monopoly on the OS market that spews lies as well as corporate BS, that a lot of users believe instantaneously without research beforehand and blindly take what Hq says as complete truth.

My research and testing has verified Linux at least is much more stable and secure than Windows. Is it because of market share? I think not as hackers have been dedicated, as much as Windows if not more at attempting to crack or mass exploit Linux/Mac. Thing is, they failed and they failed miserably. The only so called Virus worth mentioning on a Mac which wasn't all that destructive at the least required it to be executed from an external program with user authentication or interaction.

If someone wants to prove that Linux/Mac is just as vulnerable as Windows, prove me wrong and write a Virus/Worm or whatever to mass exploit Linux/Mac. If anyone can do this I/We will shut up about it and you won't hear a word again, but if you can't we'll see who is the last one spreading and talking bull/fud talk.

So don't wait, get busy and prove us wrong.

Xtreme2damax said,
COmplete BS removed

firstly, you really think the first mac/linux OS'S were built for security, this was before the internet and modems ever existed, when viruses were copied across by floppy disks, thats after this one was finally invented, and there was no reason to believe any of this was even possible. really think before you comment


Umm so you are calling basically ever security expert in the world an idiot? as most of them agree to the whole market share reasons. as for the "fixing exploits almost instantly", you are talkgin about mac and Linux correct??
if so then you are so far from incorrect as you can be, it has been proven many times, that MS is thew best at patching flaws, they may have the most, but they fix them the fastest, hell some linux flaws have sat out in the wild for months some even years, before someone has got around to fixing it, as for MAC, they still don't patch as quickly as MS.

Your research and testing is what and where?? i woudl like to see your research that proves this??

you also go from saying " Linux/Mac have never been mass exploited and they have been out as long, if not longer than Windows" to the very next sentance saying "Mac or Apple maybe has been mass exploited at one point, but the percentage is extremely small" typical mac crap as far as i am concerned, i.e. it hapend but, that one doesn't count (i have heard that way to many times from MAC users)

LMAO prove you wqrong, if i could be bothered wasting my time writign a virus for MAC you think i wouldn't have already wasted my time doing it just to prove you mac lovers wrong, umm, i am not going to because the hardest part woudl be finding one to test my hack/virus on. market share and all.!!! and P.S. i have way better things to do then prove some blind mac user wrong

I think its worth a mention that this guy is an alumnus of my high school, Mt Lebanon Sr. High School, where he first came up with the virus.

haha...this guy is a legend in the virus community.....i would just wish that macs would experience wot microsoft users do concerning viruses and spyware.....then they wudn't be so smirk abour their ''security meaures''...believe me...there are countless douzens of exploit holes in the OSX system....just a matter of time

What a prick
"hey I created the first computer virus" look at me - attention whore.

Bit like me ranting - attention whore too LOL

I agree! Why was he never arrested anyway? Prank or no prank.. other people's 'pranks' landed them in jail, even back then.

IceDogg said,
I agree! Why was he never arrested anyway? Prank or no prank.. other people's 'pranks' landed them in jail, even back then.

firstly because there were no laws to govern computer viruses, secondly, unless his friends complained he did nothing wrong! you just see the word first virus and assume he is doign bad things, it was a joke he played on his friends, and from what i have read all it did was popup a message, hardly damaging.

I was USING the Apple II series in those days and I NEVER heard of this lamer's "Elk Cloner virus" THEN so why is this a front page news story NOW?

excalpius said,
I was USING the Apple II series in those days and I NEVER heard of this lamer's "Elk Cloner virus" THEN so why is this a front page news story NOW?

Because they are "taking a look back". Have you never heard of history before?

because it was the first virus ever writen, just cause you didn't get it it doesn't mean it didn't exist, just that you had no friends as it was propogated via sneker net

I didn't say "I didn't get it"...I said I NEVER HEARD OF IT. Anyone else using Apple's at the time even HEAR about this wanna-be "virus"?

Regardless, a retrospective of the history of jerk coding is hardly the least bit newsworthy is it?

That's funny that the first virus was written on an Apple, but now Apple says all their machines are "rock-solid" and are virus free. Its also funny that even though viruses started on Apple's, they are by far the most prevalent on Windows PCs.

i beleive that is called market share

if people wanted to get into macs they would but they dont have the dominant market share

CRIKEY said,
i beleive that is called market share

if people wanted to get into macs they would but they dont have the dominant market share

exactly! ... thats pretty much the truth right there.

p.s. cause i like firefox and it's probably overall more secure than IE is but it's probably due to Firefox having a low market share so no one cares to attack it in a big scale... but if it did u can be assured that Firefox would have alot more flaws than it appears it does now.