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An illustrated history of the computer virus

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Computer viruses have come a long way, starting as the practical jokes of computing's early days and ending up as modern military weapons. A site called Computer Virus Catalog is walking through the history one virus at a time, pairing each one with a fitting illustration. The list leans heavily on the DOS era, particularly the late-’90s virus boom, and shines a light on many pivotal malware moments that have since been lost to history. And since so many of the viruses had a visual component, the artists have plenty to work with — whether it's a visualization of an email worm or the green fungus that takes over your screen to let you know you've been owned by the Lichen bug.

Each virus is also done in a different style, so you can see the playful bounce of Cookie Monster change into the frightening clash of Stuxnet. Even more surprising is how the scale of damage has grown over the years. Each bug is slightly more ambitious than the one before, until they're wiping out millions of computers, spanning continents, and calling forth an entire industry to defend against them. After Stuxnet, even the military got in on the game. What was once a simple prank is now big business or worse, a matter of national security.

The Computer Virus Catalog


Cookie Monster by Lawrence Slater
First coded in 1969, Cookie Monster is considered one of the first computer viruses ever, halting all progress on a given computer until the user typed "cookie." Like most early viruses, it was built more as a practical joke than a legitimate security threat.