Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Blame it on Fred Cohen

Fred Cohen was born during 1956 and while working on his PhD thesis during 1983 at the University of Southern California wondered whether a computer program could be written to replicate copies of it into other programs. As he subsequently said, "all at once, a light bulb came on, and I said, aha! Within a few seconds I knew how to write the program and that it would work”.

He then wrote the program and added it to the minicomputer`s software. The infection seized control of the computer within minutes and Fred Cohen was able to coin the term "computer virus" to describe a program that could "infect" other programs. It inserts a copy of itself into other programs, which may act as a virus, and so the infection spreads.

In a paper published during 1984, Cohen prophetically wrote that viruses could "spread through computers and could wreak havoc on modern government, financial, business, and academic institutions".

The first virus for personal computers was created during 1986 by two hackers (programmers who intentionally design viruses) in Pakistan called "The Brain", it piggy-backed on a program held on floppy disks. Viruses on floppy disks were a nuisance, as they could infect a computer only when the disks were passed around. Most viruses now travel via email with alarming speed. They usually replicate by automatically mailing themselves to the addresses in the victim`s email address book.

Viruses can be detected and destroyed by antivirus programs, but most computer experts believe that it is mathematically impossible to write a generic program that will detect and quarantine all current and future malicious programs.

Pieter Rautenbach

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