Creeper Computer Virus Turns 40

Paul Lilly

There's a bit of debate on what exactly qualifies as the world's first computer virus, especially since the term, as it applies to computer code, didn't exist in the early days of computing. Many, however, credit the Creeper virus as being the first, which spawned this day 40 years ago (1971). Anyone feel like celebrating?

The Creeper virus was born in a lab as an experimental self-replicating worm written by Bob Thomas. It ran on the ancient Tenex operating system and spread through an early version of the Internet known as ARPANET. Infected systems would display the message, "I'm the Creeper, catch me if you can!" In order to wipe out the Creeper virus, a new virus called Reaper was created, which would hop through networked machines looking for Creeper.

Things have changed dramatically since then, starting with the Elk Cloner virus in 1982. Elk Cloner is generally regarded as the first computer virus in the wild, which was spread using floppies.

"What changed the most in 40 years is the sheer amount, the volume of viruses," said Guillaume Lovet , the head of Fortinet's FortiGuard security research team. Lovet points out that there were 1,300 viruses in 1990, and more than 200 million in 2010.

Image Credit: Life123

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