Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


11:15 AM
Fred Touchette
Fred Touchette
Connect Directly
E-Mail vvv

The Evolution Of Malware

Like the poor in the famous Biblical verse, malware will always be with us. Here's a 33-year history from Elk Cloner to Cryptolocker. What will be next?

Only six years after the first personal computer was introduced in 1975, the world was introduced to its first computer virus. Here’s a look back at the inception of malware, how it has evolved and what we’ve learned.

The Beginning
In 1982, Elk Cloner was written to infect Apple LLC’s operating system. Attached to a game, it infected the Apple’s boot sector and spread by “cloning” itself to new disks introduced to the system. Once the virus was triggered, it would display a poem explaining how Elk Cloner was copying itself throughout the victim’s machine and that it wouldn’t be easy to reverse its effects.

The 80s: Malware Goes Malicious
A year after the first personal malware was found “in the wild,” the term “computer virus” was coined to refer to a malicious program written to destroy data or to corrupt systems. As time moved on, the computer virus branched off into many different categories, each meant to define how it acted. 

The 90s: Internet Usage Drives Malware Havoc & AV Software
Malware learned the art of evasion and as a result, antivirus software became a growing business. By the end of the 1990s, the Internet was circling the globe.  In fact, 50 percent of all U.S. homes had computers and Internet access, ultimately facilitating the explosion of malware as it is known today.

The 2000s: Aggressive Social Engineering & Criminals Pay the Price
In the early 2000s, more aggressive social engineering strategies came into play. The “I Love You” worm, aka “Love Letter,” was considered the most damaging worm of its time, infecting millions of computers worldwide merely 15 minutes after its release.

The issue of computer infection became so paramount that the world started to see authorities making arrests for computer crimes. In 2001, Jan de Wit was arrested after he authored the worm known as the Anna Kournikova worm that spread quickly by tricking recipients into believing that the email they had just received contained a photo of Anna Kournikova.

It was in 2003 when the SQL Slammer made its debut that the Internet really stood up and took notice of the now ever-present computer virus. 

Mid-2000s: Malware is Widespread
By the mid-2000s, there were more than a million known computer worms circulating around the Internet. Email spam was becoming big business as malware authors stood to make serious cash by blasting out unsolicited email, spam, and getting just a percentage of users to buy their goods or click on links. 

The first malware specifically written for Mac OSX also entered the scene during this time, causing Mac users to re-evaluate their “Macs don’t get viruses” mindset. Other consumer products also became a risk—digital picture frames and hard drives from China began to hit store shelves with malware pre-installed on them.

Late 2000s - 2010: Conficker’s Debut & State-Sponsored Attacks
The Conficker worm made its debut in November 2008, quickly infecting more than 15 million machines worldwide. Researchers theorized that not only was Conficker an experiment to test out new functionalities and spreading capabilities, but that it was also a state-sponsored experiment.

The idea of governments and militaries using malware as a new weapon was at first only a theory. This changed with Stuxnet in 2010 (and spin-offs later that year including Duqu and Flame). The world had proof that state-sponsored attacks were a reality.

2013: Say Hello to Ransomware
Cryptolocker and its spinoffs, CryptoWall and CryptoDefense, (all ransomware) made their first appearances around September 2013. Cryptolocker employed strong encryption to scramble nearly every file on its targets, making them impossible to recover without the unique, private key used to encrypt them. Even if the Cryptolocker infection was successfully removed, the files would remain encrypted and unusable. This instantly made many of its victims aware of the importance of a reliable backup strategy.

Preparing for the Future
While technology and personal habits mature with each new cyberattack, the threats lurking around the corner do the same at a seemingly uneven pace. Because we can’t predict exactly what’s ahead, here is a reminder of the best practices that will keep users and systems safe in the face of ever-changing and always evolving malware:

  • Remain vigilant; don’t let your security practice become complacent
  • Add layered security measures
  • Only use trusted sites
  • Have a reliable backup strategy 
  • Review financial accounts regularly for suspicious activity. Sometimes a victim won’t realize they have been attacked. Catching breaches early helps stop the attack, recuperate damages, and possibly even catch the attacker.


Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Apprentice
10/15/2015 | 11:36:39 AM
An appropriate follow up!
The Author states; "Only using trusted sites;" A personal anecdote;  While hosting on GoDaddy, with a registeredbusiness name, and a SSL certificate I can make any site appear trusted;  Even phishing sites.  Googleaccountservices.com is one in the distant past that proves nothing can be trusted. 

What would be layered security measures? If your running a hosting company or an enterprise;  Your IDS, VPN, Firewall, Bastion Host and copy server are all useless...the insecurity of the modern web is in the web applications themselves that allow the User to pass input;  The user being able to do this can circumvent any security hardware/software unless all applications have invested in equal resources to build security in and than field test them---over and over.

A backup strategy?  Attackers want access;  They don't want your network down;  The want it up, to see what data they can conintously gather.  A backup may just bring back old backdoors, malware...Scrub it all instead.

Checking a  financial statement may detect a shady financial advisor, script kiddie or breached card...but if its a breached card;  Likely  the attacker will NOT be caught. 

Just some thoughts:  [email protected]  Kris Richey twitter.com/darkartsofwar  www.opensourceintelsite.wordpress.com



The author wrote the following which I decided to take exception with:

  • Remain vigilant; don't let your security practice become complacent
  • Add layered security measures
  • Only use trusted sites
  • Have a reliable backup strategy 
  • Review financial accounts regularly for suspicious activity. Sometimes a victim won't realize they have been attacked. Catching breaches early helps stop the attack, recuperate damages, and possibly even catch the attacker.
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 10/23/2020
7 Tips for Choosing Security Metrics That Matter
Ericka Chickowski, Contributing Writer,  10/19/2020
Russian Military Officers Unmasked, Indicted for High-Profile Cyberattack Campaigns
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  10/19/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
A Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) vulnerability is identified in FruityWifi through 2.4. Due to a lack of CSRF protection in page_config_adv.php, an unauthenticated attacker can lure the victim to visit his website by social engineering or another attack vector. Due to this issue, an unauthenticat...
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
FruityWifi through 2.4 has an unsafe Sudo configuration [(ALL : ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL]. This allows an attacker to perform a system-level (root) local privilege escalation, allowing an attacker to gain complete persistent access to the local system.
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
NVIDIA GeForce Experience, all versions prior to, contains a vulnerability in the ShadowPlay component which may lead to local privilege escalation, code execution, denial of service or information disclosure.
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
An arbitrary command execution vulnerability exists in the fopen() function of file writes of UCMS v1.4.8, where an attacker can gain access to the server.
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
NVIDIA GeForce Experience, all versions prior to, contains a vulnerability in NVIDIA Web Helper NodeJS Web Server in which an uncontrolled search path is used to load a node module, which may lead to code execution, denial of service, escalation of privileges, and information disclosure.