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The new meaning of the word “virus”
For a long time, the word “virus” (from the Latin virus (—“poison”) was understood to mean a microscopic particle that infects the cells of living organisms. With the advent of computer “organisms”, a new phenomenon—computer viruses—soon followed, and along with them—computer virusology and computer “medicine”, in which the primary remedy is, as everyone knows, an anti-virus.
Interestingly, system infections were predicted even before real possibilities existed for them to occur. The treatise “The Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata” appeared more than 60 years ago—in 1951, and it was authored by John von Neumann, the person who spearheaded the world’s first computer.
“Self-Reproducing automata” sounds awkward and is difficult to grasp, so it is not surprising that over time a simple word became used to accurately convey the meaning of the new phenomenon—“virus”. It is believed that the word was mentioned for the first time by Gregory Benford in his short story “The Scarred Man”, which was published in 1970.
To neutralise a “virus”, it's logical to use a “vaccine”. The exact same short story mentions a program for neutralising viruses with that same name. But, in this context, the word “vaccine” did not take root, and now, throughout the entire world, programs used to combat viruses are known as “anti-viruses”!
In 1971, the first computer virus (in the modern sense of the word) appeared; its name was Creeper. It wasn’t harmful; it just displayed the message I`M THE CREEPER: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN and spread through networks independently.
It was Creeper that gave rise to the first anti-virus, the program “Reaper”, which essentially was another worm that roamed networks and deleted Creeper if it managed to find it on a computer.
As everyone knows, history is the mother of truth, not to mention the fact that it's just an extremely fascinating science. Many phenomena of modern life become clear if you know their history.
Follow the column “They were the vanguard”—we will continue to introduce you to the pioneers in the fields devoted to viruses and anti-viruses.