Skip to main content


I read on one of our competitor's websites recently about Microsoft’s forthcoming entry (opens in new tab) into the consumer anti-virus market.

These days computer viruses seem to be accepted very much as a fact of life, like train delays or junk mail. They are so much part of the language of everyday life, that it seems hard to remember that they must be a fairly recent phenomenon.

Having studied various definitions, a computer virus is defined as a self duplicating program that spreads from computer to computer. Just like a regular biological virus, a computer virus isn’t necessarily that harmful.

Many are mere annoyances, the IT equivalent of a stuffy nose. The ones that make into the headlines, though, tend to be more along the lines of virtual bird flu.

Personally, I haven’t had much experience with computer viruses, but the time I was caught did turn out to be rather memorable. For years I’ve been wary of opening email attachments. For much of that time this was due to the fact that my work PC was a Mac and most of the .exe stuff I was sent simply refused to work.

One day, though, I was sitting at my desk when I noticed I had a new piece of e-mail - nothing unusual in that. What was unusual though was that this mail was entitled, ‘I love you.’

Being a sensitive type I felt that it was important that I rushed to open this declaration of finer feelings, which had the unfortunate consequence of completely ruining my computer and nearly bringing down my entire company’s network. The cynics were right, love hurts.

The actual term computer virus seems to be of comparatively recent origin, being first recorded in 1984 in an academic paper called ‘Experiments with Computer Viruses’. This paper credits Len Adleman (opens in new tab)with coming up with the phrase.

Since then, of course, viruses have moved with the times. Starting off as an annoyance that would just piggy back on some floppy disc space and infect two or three new systems a week, they can now transmit themselves over the Internet, bringing down thousands of PCs and servers in one go.

These days they’re also headline news, receiving the same sort of coverage as a natural disaster or Celebrity Big Brother. See how many of these you remember; Sobig, I love you, Slammer. It reads like a list of one hit wonders we’d rather forget.

Of course it’s certain that there will be another virus outbreak at some point, it’s just a case of waiting for it to happen.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.