back to article First DOS-based malware celebrates silver jubilee

The first virus capable of infecting DOS-based PCs celebrates its silver jubilee this month. The Brain Virus, written by Pakistani brothers Basit and Amjad Alvi, was relatively harmless. The Alvis claimed the malware was there as a copyright protection measure to protect their medical software from piracy, an article by CIO …


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  1. Charles Calthrop

    still got a t-shirt from ntk with 'i love you.vbs' on the front

    Of all the viruses, the love bug was the best just becuase it propegated itself by purporting to send you a love letter from your boss. Who is not going to open that file with a mixture of confusion and disgust?

  2. Cameron Colley

    I'm sure there are still VXers out there not writing zombie software.

    Though the most recent I know of is about ten years ago when Female, Belgian VXer Gigabyte wrote Sharpei to see if it could be done and be "the first to write a .NET virus".

    For every few criminals looking for a fast buck I'm sure there is a curious teenager doing it for the fun of it.

  3. Chris Eaton

    Happy Birthday!!!

    Probly not going to be a big party for this one though.

    I only ever had one really nasty virus on my old windows PC and it destroyed the hard drive making it unformattable (removed the boot registration? I am pretty unknowledgable about how this stuff actually works -the computer guy who came to fix my pc couldnt save it at all)

    The bit I liked is it did flash a modified hollywood poster as a spoof parody with the title changed to virus -clever and annoying :)

    1. crowley

      Absolutely, curious, yes

      I remember back in 1990 writing a piece of code for our school's BBC network.

      (running Arcnet rather than Ethernet in those days I guess?)

      I'd discovered the network ROM extension added some BASIC commands, one of which would send a text message directly to another computers command line. (or into a little window on the Archimedes desktop, I think)

      I then discovered that it wasn't possible to run it in a for loop to send the same message to every computer (0-255, no 32bit IP addresses then!), because a failure to send to a valid recipient would cause some kind of exception.

      I then discovered it was possible to register a handler to catch this exception and resume the loop. Infinitely.

      I never had the bollocks to run it, as you had to be logged on - so I wrote all this down and gave it to some kid where I was working, who went and ran it on his own school's BBC network.

      Report was that he successfully brought the network down, and was suspended for 2 weeks for his trouble. I guess that was one of the earlier DoS attacks really.

      1. DanForys

        If I recall correctly

        that was the '*notify' command. We had fun with the same thing at our school.

        I wrote a tiny program that would flash all the screens in sequence. Each computer using *notify to tell the next one to flash.

        Those were the days etc.

  4. Anteaus

    Full circle

    We've been through the range of infection mechanisms, from sneakernet to LAN, to email, to wifi, to mobile phone apps. Now, with auto-run software on USB memory becoming a propagation vector, we're back to sneakernet. Full circle.

    Guess they didn't learn the lesson the first time round, that any kind of software which runs automatically from an unsafe source is a Bad Idea.

  5. Framitz


    I never saw this particular virus.

    My first experience was with 'the black box' AKA Jerusalem B. It was found in a nuclear alert facility PC (286 running DOS). We were able to trace it to the Base Commander's secretary. She had received a floppy with Tetris. It was a decent game so she shared copies. It took my team 3 months to finally kill it base wide. I ain't sayin' what USAF installation this was, but it's one of those closed in the mid '90s.

    The next virus I worked to clean up was the 'Stoned' virus, that one was a lot easier to kill.

  6. LinkOfHyrule

    sshhh! keep it down!

    "It's hard to believe now, but the very few computer viruses prior to Brain infected early Apple or Unix machines."

    sshhh! keep it down! You'll set the fanbois off again!

  7. J. Cook Silver badge

    Ah, memories. Yep, that's all of them.

    Wheel of malware, turn turn turn. Tell us the lesson we ought to have learned.

    *brrrrrrrtick ticktickticktick tick tick tick. tick.*

    Error in line 3- file corrupted by the doomzors virus! hahahahaha!

  8. Steve Roper

    My first encounter with a virus

    was back in 1988 when I ran into the infamous SCA-virus on the Amiga. As some of you may remember, it was a boot-sector virus that displayed the message "Something wonderful has happened / Your AMIGA is alive !!! And even better / Some of your disks have been infected with a VIRUS!!! / Another masterpiece of the Mega-Mighty SCA / SCA SCA SCA SCA..."

    It was noted for trashing original game disks that used the boot sector for copy protection, and Chris of SCA stated in Amiga User magazine that he received death threats over the virus.

    Amiga fans may also remember the more malicious Lamer Exterminator file-based virus which came out soon after the SCA. This one actually started corrupting files on both floppies and hard drive (whereas the SCA virus only affected floppies) after a while, and only after it had trashed several files did it announce itself.

    TBH, I don't know which is worse - malware that trashes years of work on your computer, or malware that quietly steals your identity and credit card details to trash years to come of your life!

  9. Curtis

    not a freetard

    "Although intended only to target copyright violators"

    Does this mean that the RIAA's and MPIA's attempts to infect P2P networks with virii has a precedent?

    Let this be a lesson. You are not a comic book hero. You cannot fight "crime" by committing crime, even if it's not yet a crime.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      This is El Reg, FFS!

      > Let this be a lesson. You are not a comic book hero. You cannot fight "crime" by committing crime, even if it's not yet a crime.

      I can't believe there is a politically correct moral lesson-giver commentard on El Reg.

      And yet, this was in the old times when computing was fun and there were only geeks playing around with bits & bytes. Nowadays you can't even do an easter egg on a piece of software because some PC lawyer is scared of the intartubes.

  10. alien anthropologist

    Early DOS attack..

    I once accidentally nuked the company LAN. By having a look at what this Doom v1 Shareware thing was* during lunchtime - discovering the multiplayer option and starting a multiplayer game on a colleague's desktop and mine.

    I shut it down after a few minutes - and did not do the same on the colleague's desktop. Did not know that the early multiplayer version of Doom used IPX broadcasting. And this desktop was hammering the network hard with broadcasts. Hard enough for our Windows-NT 3 servers (also running IPX stacks - Novel ruled the LAN back then) to choke and die.

    * Did a lot of network R&D and development back then, so I had a "technical interest" too in looking at the s/w - and not just being dumbstruck by the awesome graphics of the first real FPS. ;-)

    1. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge


      I got the "music" virus from a Prince of Persia floppy.

      Boot up, hear a tune, hard disk trashed. Grrr!

      @alien anthropologist, I think you mean Wolfenstein.

  11. david 12 Bronze badge

    not surprising at all

    Unix, created by cutting all the security and multi-user stuff out of MULTICS, was notoriously insecure, and the APPLE II was a very popular SOHO computer long before the IBM PC was thought of.

  12. Fred Flintstone Gold badge
    Gates Horns

    A perfect fanboi defense would be..

    .. adding the OS to all those impressive virus dictionaries so you could actually compare the sensitivity to infections of each platform. That would put the matter to rest, one way or another - but would prompt Microsoft to go back to batching their announcements so multiple problems looked like one..

    I dislike Windows because it's so much work to keep it running - patch after patch after AV update after reboot - you don't realise just how much crap you wade through every day until you don't use a machine for 2 weeks and get it all at once. It appears people forget that MS brought in patch Tuesday because it got way too visible just how much patching was going on, and administrators needing compatibility tests just couldn't keep up.

    However, AV providers know full well that such detail would stimulate a move to the lesser sensitive platforms (which are the UNIX derivatives - even Windows 7 still needs an anti-virus crutch to be safe). Let's not harm ourselves now, shall we?

    I don't think I classify as a fanboi, but my dislike for Windows will get me placed in that category anyway. By Winblows fanbois :-)

    1. ttuk

      dont' forget

      to defragment your FAT/NTFS hard disk regularly too..

      honestly, since switching to linux and using ext2/3/4 you wonder how microsoft have dragged their heels on this for so long..

    2. Toastan Buttar

      Ubuntu was worse

      I switch my home PC off overnight and switch it on again when I want to use it. When I ran a dual-boot system, the Ubuntu partition downloaded updates and patches every single day.

  13. RainForestGuppy

    Oh the days

    I remember a incident where on for a a couple of months every Windows 95 computer in the building (approx) 1500 would blue screen simultaneously on a Friday morning. Pretty impressive to watch!

    We investigated everything and couldn't find a thing, We even looked at hiring a forensics company but they wanted £300k just to start the investigation.

    It got to a point where IT staff would arrange doctors appointments, boiler repairs, holiday, etc just to avoid the Friday morning tirade of angry users.

    I finally tracked it down to some developers who were using Novell IPX drivers on DOS based machines, they had written some low level data transfer tools and decided that they would start using some "unused' data fields in the IPX header for their own error messages, and guess when they would run these, Yep Friday morning!

    I asked them if they had never noticed that every time they ran these tools that all the workstations crashed, they said they had, but they didn't think is was anything that they were doing.

    "Please come outside the IT management team want to introduce you to Mr Baseball bat"

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @Rain Forest Guppy

      Reminds me of a similar incident I had to deal with, but no way as bad as yours though..

      Had a network crash, almost the whole company screaming at me, no internet, no email etc etc. The only people not screaming at me were the developers - they were gathered around a single PC wondering why the CPU usage was at 100% totally unaware.....

      Programmers eh? "There's not a problem - it works fine on my machine!"

  14. Anonymous Coward

    ahh nostalgia

    Back in the days when you had to write programs to make computers work, I used to type *FX200,2 or an extra line CALL &FFBF into the very old BBC's at school when folk I didn't like were using them. They'd press <BREAK> and wonder where their work had gone... The CALL &FFBF (which I stumbled across) had the effect of the the *FX200,2 and pressing the <BREAK> key as well, making running the program the worst action possible. When the victims typed OLD (to get their programs back) all they would get is Bad Program. I was also accused at one point of reprogramming ROM's (on a duff Acorn Electron), which was (a sensationalist lie) believed by all my classmates (and teacher), despite being impossible to do.

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