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Know your enemy
By the 1980s, it became apparent that computer viruses were a real phenomenon. However, no one understood that these threats could cause trouble back then, and that they would cause even more trouble in the future. Meanwhile, it's time to give a clear definition of the new phenomenon.
Jürgen Kraus, a student of the University of Dortmund, was the first to draw a parallel between a living cell and a self-replicating computer program. That was in 1980. He was the one who detailed the self-replicating Siemens computer programs that really existed at that time.
Soon a clear definition of the term “computer virus” appeared—it was provided by Fred Cohen, a student at the University of Southern California's School of Engineering. In 1983, in his paper “Computer Viruses –Theory and Experiments”, he wrote: “We define a computer ‘virus’ as a program that can ‘infect’ other programs by modifying them to include a possibly evolved copy of itself. With the infection property, a virus can spread throughout a computer system or network. Every program that gets infected may also act as a virus and thus the infection grows”.
Interestingly, since viruses were still not perceived to be threats, in those days, information security specialists were among those who were keen to create them. Fred Cohen designed a program that covertly creates copies of itself and seeks to maximize its distribution. However, as more malicious programs came into being, we came to understanding how dangerous this phenomenon was, and it became obvious that the ‘scientific’ development of viruses can do more harm than good. Viruses really came to be viewed as the enemy when the Internet started to spread in the late 1980s.
Currently, Trojans constitute the vast majority of malware (over 90%). They cannot replicate themselves and, therefore, are not viruses. But they are considered the greatest threat to Internet users.
The most persistent myth about anti-viruses is that malware programs are written by the same people who develop tools to neutralise them in order to boost anti-virus sales. But we’re in the 21st century now, and the number of malicious programs being crafted by criminals is so great that virus laboratories have three shifts of security researchers working seven days a week to cope with them. Anti-virus companies have a hard enough time dealing with the constant incoming barrage of malicious programs, so it makes absolutely no sense to believe that they would develop malware themselves.
And the most important thing to remember: engaging in the development of malicious programs is a criminal offence.