Sunday, January 20, 2013

Brain - the world's first ever computer virus

The then IBM PC and MS DOS based computer world was very clean and easy to work with till  January 1986 when the world's first ever computer virus was born in the city of Lahore, Pakistan.

It has been since 27 years and the menace of viruses has turned into a big genie.

However, the virus created by two brothers, Amjad and Basit Farooq Alvi, they called BRAIN, was not with a mala fide intention, rather to protect their copyrighted work. Anyone who tried to copy their work, had the floppy disk corrupted and infected with the Brain virus.

Brain thus came to be known as the first IBM PC virus, paving the way for the proliferation of PC viruses over the past two decades. Its birthday is unlikely to be celebrated by many.

Brain virus, which spread via floppy disks, was known only to infect boot records and not computer hard drives like most viruses today. When an infected floppy was put into a computer, it installed Brain in the computer's memory, from where it infected new floppies as they were inserted.

The virus also known as the Lahore, Pakistani, Pakistani Brain, Brain-A and UIUC would occupy unused space on the floppy disk so that it could not be used and would hide from detection. It would also disguise itself by displaying the uninfected bootsector on the disk.

It is very strange that at that time in 1986 when internet was not a reality, the Brain virus traveled to other parts of the world and soon was threatening the floppies in many parts of the world.

No immediate antidote was available to 'cure' the wide spreading Brain virus till March 1988, when the first anti-virus was designed to detect and remove the Brain virus. The anti-virus also immunized floppy disks to get rid of the Brian infection.

F-Secure researcher Mikko Hypponen was one of the early handful of self-styled virus hunters. When Hypponen reverse engineered Brain, he found buried in the code a block of text with the Farooq brothers' names, phone number and address, near Lahore Railway Station, Lahore, Pakistan.

Hypponen recently traveled to Pakistan and found the Farooq brothers 25 years later working at the same address. Here is an exclusive USA TODAY release of a video documentary, produced by F-Secure, revealing what Hypponen learned on his visit:

You and I now know how far the menace of computer viruses has \progressed' since 1986 and how difficult it has been to really resist and shield one's computer from computer viruses and malware. An innovation to protect one's copyright in the age of XT computers has led us all in lot of trouble for as long as we use computers.

Mikko Hypponen's hunt of Brain Brothers

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