October is also known as cybersecurity awareness month, a topic of utmost importance for everyone who owns a device, regardless of their field of work, hobbies, or interests. While being unfamiliar with a topic might make it seem difficult, it’s vital to get comfortable with this one. It’s for your data, devices, and your own safety. Think about it like this: focusing on a device’s health is very similar to focusing on our own health. For a more specific example, think about your daily mental health walk. The recommendation is to take different paths during your mental health walks, right? Another recommendation is to have different passwords for every account.
While having complex passwords can protect your accounts to some extent, there are scenarios where this might not be enough. When it comes to computer viruses, your device can get “sick” in various ways. It’s similar to how real-life viruses can affect you. For example, a computer virus can attack your device through phishing. It’s a common cyber-attack method (e.g., someone attaches a virus to the link and sends it via e-mail). That’s why it’s essential to scan a message before clicking on attached links or files. Ask yourself: do you know the sender? does the email address look trustworthy? is the message reliable? does the link look safe? Tip for the last question: hover your mouse over the link to see the address. But these are just some of the factors that should be taken into account to avoid phishing scams – find more on this here.
Computer Viruses – A Quick History
Phishing and topics cybersecurity-related could have us talking for months. But, let’s focus for the moment on the history of computer viruses. While nowadays we associate a computer virus with something negative, this hasn’t always been their reputation. As mentioned in Norton’s blog, computer viruses were first developed by students to further help them in their research, to test their projects, to improve their coding skills, or to make light jokes to their colleagues. In other words, they were harmless and not designed with negative intentions. These days, according to Dataprot.net, what all viruses have in common is that: “You don’t want these anywhere near your computer, smartphone, or tablet”. In the same article, you’ll find more insights on this topic, such as “Every minute, four companies fall victim to ransomware attacks.” and “46% of hackers disseminating malware deliver it almost exclusively through email.”.
In 1986, two brothers wrote Brain – they were only 17 and 24 years old. The purpose was to punish people who illegally distributed their heart monitoring program – “If illegally copied versions of the software were installed on a computer, the virus would also copy itself onto the machine. The user of the pirated software received an embedded message stating that his or her computer was infected with a virus and that the user would need to contact the brothers immediately for inoculation.” – source here. The virus didn’t affect the user’s computer. Its scope was to help the brothers keep track of who used their program. “Some estimates suggest that between 1986 and 1989, the Brain Virus hit more than 100,000 computers” – source here.
But, which is the true “first computer virus”?
While many view Brain as the first ever computer virus, including John McAfee, the creator of the Antivirus program with the same name, who mentions that “There were no viruses before. No one was discussing it or writing about it or considering it.”, there are also some that consider Creeper to be the first at it. Created in 1971 by Bob Thomas, Creeper was a harmless virus. It corrupted a specific type of computer and displayed the message “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!” – source here. Thing is, the virus also duplicated itself every time someone ran it. To fight it, Ray Tomlinson created Reaper in 1972 – considered by some to be the first antivirus. The “relationship” between Creeper and Reaper served later on as inspiration for the game Core War, “a programming game in which two or more programs run in a simulated computer with the goal of terminating every other program and surviving as long as possible.” – source here.
Between Creeper and Brain, there was one more computer virus, also not regarded as malicious. Its name: Rabbit (or Wabbit). Also regarded as the first self-replicating malware by some, its speed of spreading makes it different from Creeper. Apparently, it “can reproduce so fast that the system it is installed on literally chokes as its resources are all used up” (source here). Considering it can kill a computer system, describing it as a non-malicious virus sounds a bit far-fetched.
While the debate about which one of these three is the first actual computer virus continues, here you can see a timeline of the worst computer viruses/worms to ever exist so far. As explained on Kaspersky’s blog, the difference between computer viruses and worms is that the first one starts infecting the device only after being activated by the host (through downloading a file, for example), while the latter one starts to self-replicate and invade the computer as soon as they have breached the system.
How to stay cyber-safe
We take cybersecurity seriously and make sure to do everything in our power to keep our devices healthy. Our IT team delivers constant trainings on cybersecurity. They also send us a newsletter on the same topic where they share good-to-know info on how to stay cyber-safe. We learn about potential threats, types of cyber attacks, methods to keep our devices safe, and other cybersecurity-relevant information. There are a few small things anyone can implement that will help you stay safe from cyber threats, such as:
- Implementing multi-factor authentication to all your accounts (wherever it’s possible)
- Having strong passwords (there’s no place for “1234” or “password” if you want to be cyber-safe.);
- Having different (and strong) passwords to every account (password generators are a great alternative – here and here are two of our pieces on this topic);
- Check before clicking on a link;
- Back up your data;
- Avoid doing sensitive actions (such as transactions) on free wifi;
- Answer the recovery questions in a creative manner;
- Never leave your devices unguarded.
Cybersecurity is a topic of utmost importance, that we hope you’re not neglecting. Staying cyber-safe should be on your priority list. It’s not about “how” cyber attacks can get to you, but more about “when” it will happen. So, back up your data, turn on multi-factor authentication, and get creative with your passwords. And stay away from using the free wifi whenever there’s sensitive data involved. Celebrate cybersecurity awareness month by implementing these few actions that will keep you cyber-safe in the future.
If you’re interested in the topic of computer viruses, you can check out this medium-length YouTube documentary on the TWS channel (filled with other tech-related videos). Or, you can check out the Malicious Life podcast, where “Host Ran Levi interviews hackers and industry experts, discussing the hacking culture of the 1970s and 80s, the subsequent rise of viruses in the 1990s, and today’s advanced cyber threats.” source here. If you just want to go through articles on this topic, check out this one, this one, or this one.