“And Odysseus Devised a Horse…to Ruin the Trojans’ Online Game of Angry Birds”

Apologies for the lack of posts lately. I’ve had a lot of viruses on my computer as of late ( for your information, never install the free software Converter Lite – it is malware). Most of us know what viruses are in terms of animal diseases. When I think of a virus I remember drawing strange diagrams at school. Lock and key diagrams, right? Maybe I’m getting it all confused with other molecules and diagrams. Anyway, I had to reinstall my computer because of this virus. Shame we can’t reinstall ourselves when we get ill.

A computer virus is “a software program capable of reproducing itself and usually capable of causing great harm to files or other programs”.

The oldest computer viruses weren’t considered viruses at the time, and were simply known as self-replicating computer programs. The Creeper virus, written by Bob Thomas, is the oldest known purpose-built virus which, during the early 1970s, sprouted through the ARPANET (an early version of the internet – the world’s first operational packet-switching network) on the TENEX operating system.

Honestly, I completely understand the technical stuff I just wrote, and this diagram, but I just can’t be bothered to explain it to you technophobes, so I won’t. But I really do understand it.

The Creeper was self-replicating, like a virus you and I can catch, and it caused the following message to appear:

I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!

The Reaper program was designed to get rid of the Creeper.

After that, other viruses came along, such as the Elk Cloner in 1981 which was written by Rich Skrenta, and was the first virus to appear “in the wild” or outside of the lab it was created in. It attached itself to the Apple DOS 3.3 operating system (yes, that’s an Apple virus not Microsoft, believe it or not).

And of course, most of us have experienced the Trojan horse programs, so-called because they sneak into your computer like the soldiers of Ancient Greece who infiltrated the enchanted walls of Troy by hiding inside a large, wooden horse that was wheeled inside the city, and who went on to win the Trojan war (you can read about it in Virgil’s Aeneid or Homer’s Odyssey. Translate them yourself from Ancient Greek or Latin, if you like. Or you could just watch the film Troy). Trojan horses don’t duplicate themselves like a virus does, but it is designed to steal secret information from computer users. As people shared more software during the 80s, so too did the Trojans and viruses spread – like blood seeping from the wound of a Trojan soldier as he exhales his final breath, the stars in the night sky shining in his darkening eyes (that simile was for you, Homer).

And a worm? A worm doesn’t need human interaction for it to spread, and a single user’s computer is capable of sending out a multitude of worms to many people in one go. The first known worm came about in 1988, when Robert Morris’s worm took down 10% of computers connected to the internet of that time.

I remember one of the first times I used the internet, or the World Wide Web more correctly. It was during a Geography or Science lesson at school around 1998/1999, and although we had a few computer rooms at school, there was only one tiny room with about ten computers that were linked to the internet. I think you had to pay to use the internet access outside of lessons. I distinctly remember being on a website in this lesson I was in, and thinking: what is this? I read the text on the web page, and then when I realised I could click on it and highlight it, I thought I could perhaps edit it too, and tried to type over it. Didn’t work. I didn’t really understand what the point was – I had the Hutchinson Multimedia CD-ROM to do my school work back then.

I can remember how it looked – when internet pages were simple framesets with large clumps of text in an array of font colours (black, red or blue) and tiny images. I think of it now whenever I click onto a webpage these days that has some faulty coding language and so doesn’t load properly. It looked a bit like this:

I’ve noticed that for some reason, bed and breakfast owners still use websites that look like this.

Without launching into a full-scale history of the internet and the World Wide Web, my brief post on computer flu history ends here.