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Happy birthday dear virus - 25 this month

Although most computer users with long memories think the first computer viruses appeared in the mid-1980s, the first virus actually dates back to July 1982, way before IBM unveiled its first PC on an unsuspecting public. The first virus was the Elk Cloner, apparently created by a high school student from Pittsburgh, which propagated between Apple II computers via floppy disk.

Elk Cloner's payload was merely a verse or two of poetry, but it set the theme for a stream of annoying pieces of malware which popped up on the screens of Apple II, BBC Micro and, later, early PC users' screens.

Phil Higgins, a senior partner with Brookcourt Solutions, said that the viruses of today are long away from the almost benign malware of 1982.

"Back then it was just a prank. A bit of fun. Today's malware is frequently malevolent and coded by criminals and/or hackers who are intent on extracting money from - as well as destroying the data of - innocent computer users and the organisations they work for.

An example of this is the MPack tool kit which is being used by criminals to infect legitimate websites and then deliver a crime ware payload to unsuspecting visitors. Reports indicate that MPack is being used by cyber criminals to control tens of thousands of websites and infect hundreds of thousands of corporate and individual users." he said.

"It's always nice to remember an anniversary, but this is one date that both business and personal computer users should use to galvanise themselves into raising the bar on their information security and ensuring that any malware doesn't get through their security screens," he added.

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.