Cybersecurity in History: The Elk Cloner Virus

Share Button

In 2017, Cybersecurity Ventures predicted that by 2019 a business will become the target of a ransomware attack every 14 seconds. The average budget for cybersecurity measures is expected to exceed $1 Trillion by 2021, and the number of open jobs for cybersecurity experts is fast outgrowing the number of available applicants (CSO Online). It seems that “cybersecurity” is a hot button topic today, but where did this trend start? Where did the first computer virus come from? In late January of 1982, a 15 year-old programmer named Richard Skrenta inadvertently created the first computer virus (outside of a lab) that spread through infected floppy discs “in the wild”. Ironically it was written as a joke!

The first computers, such as the ENIAC, were built at the beginning of the 20th century and were used mostly for computing large sums and for breaking codes during war time. These behemoth machines took up entire floors of buildings and required constant monitoring and maintenance. Over time these computers become smaller, faster, and more efficient, but they were still individual machines that worked towards a specific computing purpose. With the birth of the modern age of computing and the home computer system, programmers could begin experimenting with their own code and testing the limits of these inventions. Using his personal Apple II computer, Richard Skrenta began creating a boot sector virus to infect floppy discs and spread itself to any Apple II computer that booted up using the infected floppy disc by putting the virus into the computer’s memory. His virus would become the first in history to spread “in the wild” and exist outside of a computer laboratory; meaning that any floppy discs that were inserted into an infected computer, were immediately infected and could then pass the virus on to another system. The virus was essentially harmless and was intended to annoy its victims more than attack them. Elk Cloner was designed so that once the Apple II computer had been booted up 50 times after being infected, a poem would display on the screen:

Elk Cloner:

The program with a personality

It will get on all your disks

It will infiltrate your chips

Yes it’s Cloner!

It will stick to you like glue

It will modify ram too

Send in the Cloner!

Once computer developers began installing hard drives into computers instead of relying on floppy discs for memory, this type of virus was no longer effective. Today the threat of digital security is greater than an infected floppy disc that only affects the device you have in your home, and it can be much more detrimental to your system than an unwanted poem on your screen. In a report by ISACA it was projected that over the next 2-4 years there will be an estimated skills gap of almost 2 million in the field of Cybersecurity. The Cybersecurity industry is seeing a sharp spike in hacking attempts and recent scandals, such as the Equifax data breach in 2017, have shown that the cybersecurity needs of major corporations are not being met. Imagine what opportunities are waiting for you with a degree in Cybersecurity!  On average, a Cybersecurity professional will have a yearly salary of $116,000, almost double the national median income reported for 2016! If you have a passion for online safety and love a challenge, think of a degree in Cybersecurity as a part of your future and call us at (858) 499-0202!

Coleman University logo

Share Button