Table of Contents
What are malware attacks
The malware was created in another era, in a distant server room, on a computer you’ve never used, running an operating system you’ve probably never heard of. In fact, the word “servant” was not common currency in those days.
1971/CREEPER: the origin of malware
Like many experiments in technology, CREEPER started out benign: a joke by famous programmer Bob Thomas , on a primitive Digital PDP-10 computer running software called TENEX that shared tasks with cupboard-sized processors.
All CREEPER did was display a message on the screen – on ticker, in fact – that was copied to other machines on the network. But as a proof of concept, it is recognized as the first malware . A piece of code designed for mischief. More damaging than the virus itself was the idea that gave it life. As computers shrunk and increased in power, moving from vast underground bunkers to offices and homes, this idea continued to advance and multiplied.
1986/Brain makes its way into our computers
The next 15 years did not get rid of the descendants of CREEPER. But with computers still rare and few connected to each other beyond small LANs, their effects were limited. Until 1986, when Brain started infecting floppy disks in the still recent IBM PCs.
Again, Brain was not designed to be evil. Written by two brothers in Pakistan, the virus made floppy disks unreadable in order to control piracy of a commercial software package made by themselves. When it was discovered, they offered affected legitimate users the resources to disinfect their disks.
But with the ability to make floppy disks unreadable, Brain went beyond CREEPER by not only sending a piece of text, but executing code. Brain was real malware, truly the first virus. His legacy lives on in every illicit virus circulating today. What happened to those pioneers of malware? His business is still running, operating an ISP in Pakistan. Apparently they still get calls from time to time.
Also read: How to spy on your Mobile for free
At this point, something was missing in the history of malware: true malice. All that changed in 1989, when Joseph Popp created the first ransomware .
Its creator, curiously, was a medical worker with a doctorate from Harvard University. Masquerading as a free application to test the subject’s susceptibility to HIV, it sent 5.25 ”diskettes to 20,000 addresses. This virus was called – with much political incorrectness – AIDS Trojan. Once on disk, it encrypted data on an encrypted volume that would only be decrypted for payment. The price was $ 189 to pay through an account in Panama.
Fortunately, few users suffered from it. But as the first ransomware, it created a lot of frustration, confusion, and anger among thousands of researchers.
In the 1990s, ransomware gained an evolutionary advantage. With public key cryptography, ransomware creators could unlock millions of discs encoded with a unique “key”, but only in conjunction with a second “key” purchased by the victim. In other words, your ransom payment would only unlock one computer: yours.
At this point, cybercrime escalated. In 1995, millions of computers – not just from the world of academia – began connecting to a fun hormonal bulletin board called the World Wide Web. Today, ransomware is perhaps the most insidious threat to an individual’s connected work. It seals your data – and often your livelihood – within an encrypted safe, while payment is only accepted in BitCoin or other virtual currencies, leaving no trace in the formal financial system.
And there are too many paths to your data with everything connected to everything else. There can be a breach through the Internet of Things of Bring Your Own Device, cloud services, POS terminals, CCTV cameras, industrial control systems. Any device can be a gateway to corporate data and some they cannot even be locked.
So the next five years signal another change: towards machine learning or AI. In short, the attack software will be able to learn. Not just snooping around your server or flooding it, or tampering with your passwords, but adapting to attack where you are most vulnerable.
How to protect from malware attacks
Fortunately, there is some evolution. As attacks have grown more powerful, so have defenses. Most work computers have antivirus software installed; most users know how to keep patches and updates up to date; people want to learn, if you are willing to explain.
Furthermore, the same technologies that enable malware can be used to combat it. Millions of professionals store their data on encrypted volumes that cannot be maliciously tampered with. Around a fifth of PCs have full hard drive encryption, antivirus software vendors cover hundreds of millions of machines, learning from each attack and offering updates against the latest threats every day.
In this way, ransomware, despite always being a risk for businesses today, can be disarmed through adequate security policies and active monitoring of your network configuration, even in the world of BYOD and Shadow IT. So if you ever get depressed thinking about malware, remember that it can be fought.