Ten computer viruses that changed the world

Ten computer viruses that changed the world

Summary: In the malware arms race that has seen digital villains stay one step ahead of the good guys, some landmarks stand out. ZDNet UK picks the most important, and most unexpected, unpleasant surprises to confront IT users

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TOPICS: Security
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  • Stuxnet

    8. Stuxnet (2010)
    The most sophisticated malware observed, this is a uniquely targeted worm that propagates via Windows and attacks industrial controller hardware — but only of a certain configuration (such as the Siemens S7-300 controller, above).

    It is thought to have been designed to damage the Iranian nuclear programme, and may well have succeeded. When it finds its target system, it reprograms high-frequency motor controllers to operate in an intermittently out-of-specification way. It thereby upsets industrial processes in a manner that's hard to identify.

    Although the authors of Stuxnet aren't known, reports earlier this year said that the malware was claimed as a success of the Israeli Defence Force, in a video shown at the retirement party of the force's chief of general staff, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenaz.

    Photo credit: Ulli1105

  • When Harlie Was One

    9. When HARLIE Was One by David Gerrold (1972)
    The first fictional computer virus was written by an errant, intelligent, eponymous computer that wanted to gather information about its creator for blackmail purposes. Although the propagation method described in When HARLIE Was One was unusual, it was apt for a time before the internet took off:

    "You have a computer with an auto-dial phone link. You put the VIRUS program in it and it starts dialling phone numbers at random until it connects to another computer with an auto-dial. The VIRUS program then injects itself into the new computer."

    Photo credit: I09

  • The Shockwave Rider

    10. The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner (1975)
    If HARLIE lived in a world without computer networking, The Shockwave Rider saw the network as the most important part of new technology and one that could massively affect human society — and thus qualifies as a genuinely visionary pre-internet SF novel.

    In the novel, worms and counter-worms are sent into the network to do battle by proxy on behalf of their writers; this often involves deception and identity theft. The nature of online identity, the role of online groups in shaping society, and the symbiosis between human and networks are all themes that bear examination more than 30 years on.

    Photo credit: Cybermage


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Topic: Security

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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