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September 13, 2013updated 22 Sep 2016 10:58am

Top 5: Infamous computer viruses

Here’s a countdown of five deadly computer viruses that stole, destroyed, and embarrassed.

By Ben Sullivan

Since the early days of the PC, viruses have come a long way. From young hackers trying to one-up eachother almost innocently to the now deadly malware employed by the military, hackers have gone professional and viruses are now used as part of criminal gangs or government intelligences strategies. As the stakes in cyber-warfare have grown, so has the destructive power of viruses. We’ve compiled a list of five computer viruses, which range from a mere nuisance to frighteningly powerful political tools.

5) The ‘I Love You’ virus (Year 2000)


Back in 2000, millions of people made the mistake of opening an innocent looking email attachment labeled simply "I Love You." Instead of finding a secret admirer’s admission or a heartfelt note from a loved one, users actually opened a malicious program which started by overwriting the users’ image files. Then, like an old-fashioned chain letter, the virus emailed itself to the first 50 contacts in the user’s Windows address book. By today’s standards, the Love Letter virus is almost cute, a refelction on how simple and silly viruses used to be, however, it did cause wide scale problems for PC users. It took a matter of hours for the virus to become a global pandemic, no thanks to the stings it tugged on user’s emotions and curiosity. Perhaps it could be said that the I Love You virus was the first socially-engineers computer virus.

4) The Morris Worm (Year 1988)


Disk containing the source code for the Morris Worm held at the Boston Museum of Science

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In 1988 Robert Morris, a university student, let loose a worm which affected 10 per cent of all the computers connected to the internet (which sounds incredible, but it is to be noted that in 1988 that number was estimated to be around 60,000 computers). Still, the Morris Worm caused widespread destruction among those infected.
Morris became the first person to be convicted in the US under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. According to its creator, the Morris worm was not written to cause damage, but to gauge the size of the Internet, and he admits he should have used a simulation first. Robert Tappan Morris is now, ironically, a professor at MIT.

3) agent.btz (Year 2008)

This piece of malware’s claim to fame is that it temporarily forced the Pentagon to issue a ban on thumb drives and even contributed to the creation of an entirely new military department, U.S. Cyber Command. Agent.btz spread through infected thumb drives, where it installed malware that stole data. When agent.btz was found on Pentagon computers in 2008, officials suspected the work of foreign spies. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynne later said that agent.btz created "a digital beachhead, from which data could be transferred to servers under foreign control." Though some anti-virus experts have disputed the contention that the virus was the creation of a foreign intelligence agency, its effect was to make cyber war a formal part of US military strategy.



2) Conficker Virus (Year 2009)

In 2009, a new computer worm found its way into millions of Windows-based PCs around the world, creating a colossal botnet army of remotely controlled computers capable of stealing financial data and other information. It was fairly complex, which made it difficult to stop, and prompted the creation of a coalition of experts dedicated to stopping its spread. At its height, the Conficker worm infected millions of computers, leading anti-virus researchers to call it the ‘super bug; or ‘super worm’. The real mystery of Conficker, which still infects a large number of computers, is that no one knows what it was meant to do. The botnet army was never used for any specific purpose, to anyone’s knowledge. Conficker’s real purpose still confounds security experts.

1) Stuxnet (Year 2009-2010)


A virus allegedly written by the US and Israel crippled Iran’s nuclear program in 2009. It was called Stuxnet, and it was a gamechanger. It was the first computer virus designed to intentionally cause damage in the real world, as opposed to the virtual. While previous malware programs may have caused secondary physical problems, Stuxnet was unique in that was designed to damage machinery at Iran’s uranium enrichment plant. Based on the available information, including data from the International Atomic Energy Agency, experts believe Stuxnet caused a large number of Iran’s centrifuges to spin out of control and self-destruct. Though Stuxnet was discovered in 2010, it is believed to have first infected computers in Iran in 2009.

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