Version History: The World’s First Computer Virus


World's first computer virus

When you hear the term ‘computer virus’ you think of damaged programmes, vanishing files, reformatted hard drives and disruptive malware traffic, right? Well, it wasn’t quite like that in 1982 when Elk Cloner, the world’s first computer virus, escaped the labs and attached itself to Apple floppy disks.

Elk Cloner – a teenage practical joke

Elk Cloner wasn’t the first virus to be created, but it was the first to get lost in the wild and become infamous. The author was a 15-year-old lad called Rich Skrenta with enviable programming skills and a computer obsession.

So, what did it do?

It was all a bit of innocent fun. Infected machines would display a short poem on every fifth boot from an infected disk. The poem, also written by Skrenta, read:

Elk Cloner:  
The program with a personality
It will get on all your disks
It will infiltrate your chips
Yes, it’s Cloner! It will stick to you like glue
It will modify ram too
Send in the Cloner!

The malware played other little subtle tricks too, but nothing that caused real harm. It was, after all, a schoolboy prank.

Grown-up Rich has a blog dedicated to Elk Cloner, where he explains that the virus was designed to be nothing more than “…a practical joke combined with a hack. A wonderful hack.”

How did the world’s first computer virus spread?

Elk Cloner was a boot sector virus, written for Apple II systems, which was the most popular home computer of the time. It spread via floppy disks. Arcade games were BIG in the 80s and worked off Apple II, so that’s where the virus largely hid and caused chaos.

When a user booted an Apple II from an infected floppy, Elk Cloner took up residence in the computer’s memory. Putting a floppy in the drive of an infected computer and keying in the command catalogue to get a list of files, would inject the floppy with a dose of the malware.

Infection was hard back then

In the 1980s, it was far more difficult to spread viruses than it is today. The malware had to physically travel from floppy to infected drive, making it a slow process. In the Internet Age, every computer is connected, so every outbreak immediately becomes a pandemic problem. But don’t worry, the Geeks Protect and Geeks Cloud come with antivirus included, so you’ll be ok.