The Scariest Computer Viruses

  • Beware Malware: The most malevolent computer viruses

    Computer viruses have racked up damages estimated to average more than $8 billion a year. They’ve been around for years, and have evolved with the technology. In the early days, hackers were pranksters who would spread viruses to other computers by distributing them on discs that generated gotcha-type messages. Once modems became common and personal computers even more prevalent, transmission became quicker and more dangerous. Photo Credit: shooting Brooklyn
    How a virus spreads
  • How a virus spreads

    Viruses are just one kind of electronic infection and differ from worms and Trojan horses, which we will also include on our list.  Viruses are always spread by human intervention — most through e-mail attachments that the user opens. There are thousands of varieties of viruses, and many that can do a world of damage to your computer, but they all require some action on the user’s part to get them started. Photo Credit: ccox888
    A worm is creepy crawly
  • A worm is creepy crawly

    Worms are also malicious programs — but different than viruses in that they spread automatically. A worm will slither through computer networks infecting any connected machine and replicating itself, eating up storage space, and slowing down individual computers or an entire whole network. Lack of user intervention allows worms to spread faster than viruses. Photo Credit: R i c k   H a r r i s
    Beware Trojan horse
  • Beware Trojan horse

    The Trojan horse is not self-replicating like a worm, but disguises itself as something benign and when loaded onto your machine, can capture information from you system — like user names and passwords, or can even open access for a hacker to control your computer remotely. Photo Credit: ccarlstead
    An ounce of precaution...
  • An ounce of precaution...

    Over the years, anti-virus software has developed to patch or prevent attacks on your computer, but user vigilance can be your best line of defense. Resist opening unexpected e-mail attachments or downloading from unreliable sources.  If you get an attachment from someone you know, but have any doubts about the attachment, contact the sender before double-clicking. Practicing safe computing practices and downloading updates to your anti-virus scanning software regularly will at least keep you as safe as you can be. Hopefully, you have avoided infection from the viruses, worms and Trojan horses on this list of the worst ones in history. Photo Credit: The U.S. Army
    Jerusalem – 1987
  • Jerusalem – 1987

    Named after one of the first places it hit — Jerusalem University — this was one of the first MS-DOS viruses.  It infected thousands of computers while remaining undetected. On infection, the Jerusalem virus resides in the computer’s memory and then infects every executed file over and over, until eventually the file sizes overwhelm computer resources. On Friday the 13th of every year after 1987 the virus deletes every program file that was executed. But, since the advent of Windows, Jerusalem’s DOS targeting has become obsolete.  While the virus was thought to have originated in Israel, antivirus researchers believe that Italy might be ground zero for this one. Photo Credit: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL
    Morris (aka Internet Worm) – November 1988
  • Morris (aka Internet Worm) – November 1988

    The Morris worm was not actually created to cause damage, but to gauge the size of the Internet. Unfortunately, the Morris worm contained an error that caused it to infect computers multiple times, creating a denial of service (DoS).  Developed by Cornell University student, Robert Morris, but released through MIT to disguise its origin, the author became the first to be convicted in the U.S. under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  The Morris worm infected around 6,000 computers, slowing them to the point of becoming unusable. The estimated economic impact was between $100,000 to $10 million. Robert Morris was fined, put on probation and ordered to 400 hours of community service.  He is now a professor at MIT. Photo Credit: chego101
    Solar Sunrise – 1998
  • Solar Sunrise – 1998

    Named because it exploited a vulnerability in the Solaris operating system, the virus affected dozens of Pentagon computer systems.  Launched at a time when tensions were high in the Persian Gulf, it was suspected that the virus was an Iraqi attack.  A joint task force was put together with agents from the FBI, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, NASA, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the NSA and the CIA. The investigation let to two American teenager computer hackers from California. Photo Credit: lrargerich
    Melissa – 1999
  • Melissa – 1999

    Created by David L. Smith, a computer programmer from New Jersey, and named after a lap dancer he met in Florida, the virus was circulated in an e-mail message with the subject line “Important Message” and spread with an attached Microsoft Word document. When the file was opened, Melissa sent the infected document to the first 50 addresses in the user's address book. It clogged government and private sector networks, forcing some companies to discontinue e-mail service until the virus was contained. Smith received a 20-month jail sentence and a fine. Photo Credit: Picture Perfect Pose
    ILOVEYOU (a.k.a. The Love Bug) – 2000
  • ILOVEYOU (a.k.a. The Love Bug) – 2000

    Like the Melissa virus, ILOVEYOU also spread through e-mail, but came in the form of a self-replicating worm from the Philippines.  The subject of the malicious e-mail message was ILOVEYOU with an attachment of a supposed love letter from a secret admirer.  It affected tens of millions of Windows computers almost overnight. Upon opening the attachment, the worm sent a copy of itself to everyone in the user’s address book with the user's sender address. It also made a number of malicious changes to the user's system. While two suspects in the Philippines were investigated and arrested, charges were dropped since no definitive link could be made between the creators and the virus and there were no laws in the Philippines at the time against computer crimes. Photo Credit: stevefaeembra
    The Code Red worm –  June 2001
  • The Code Red worm –  June 2001

    Attacking a vulnerability in Microsoft Internet Information Server, Code Red went through a number of versions in several days, all of which conducted a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack that turns infected computers into “zombies” that overwhelm Web sites running on the Microsoft server. More than 350,000 computers were affected in the first 14 hours of the attack on July 19. Then at midnight, all Code Red zombies quit attacking new victims, and redirected themselves to one of the servers that hosts the White House Web site, bombarding it with a deluge of bad connections.  An earlier version of the worm defaces any Web site hosted by the server with the text: "Welcome to http://www.worm.com! Hacked by Chinese!" The actual source of the attack has not been identified. Photo Credit: compujeramey
    The Klez Virus – 2001
  • The Klez Virus – 2001

    The most persistent virus up to that time, Klez posed a triple threat acting as a virus, a worm and a Trojan horse. Klez arrives in a victim’s inbox as a file attachment. When the attachment is double-clicked, Klez appropriates the user’s e-mail address book and searches the user’s hard drive for addresses from the Web browser cache. Klez always appears to be sent from someone the user knows — an extremely effective social-engineering trick that has become a mainstay of virus distribution. Photo Credit: Don Hankins
    Nimda – September 2001
  • Nimda – September 2001

    Admin, backwards — this worm was released shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks and infected hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide. Nimda was considered to be one of the most complicated viruses, having up to five different methods of infecting computers systems.  It affects both local files and those on shared networks.  The worm also creates open network shares on the infected computer, allowing access to the system. During this process, the worm creates the guest account with Administrator privileges and the infected computer is vulnerable to pillaging. Given the timing, there was speculation that the worm was linked to Al Qaeda, but the theory has since been rejected. Photo Credit: basykes
    Slammer worm (aka Sapphire) – 2003
  • Slammer worm (aka Sapphire) – 2003

    With devastating effects, the Slammer worm exploited a hole in Microsoft's SQL server. Once it attacked a server running Microsoft SQL, the infected system instantly started spewing millions of Slammer clones, targeting computers at random, duplicating itself and creating an army of Slammer slaves that doubled every 8.5 seconds. Within hours of the initial release, huge sections of the Internet were knocked offline. Slammer was also responsible for causing Emergency 911 operators in suburban Seattle to resort to using paper and Continental Airlines was forced to cancel flights from Newark because it was unable to process tickets. Photo Credit: Robert Scoble
    MyDoom – February 2004
  • MyDoom – February 2004

    A worm affecting Microsoft Windows was one of the fastest spreading worms in history affecting a new computer every millisecond. It appears that it might have been commissioned by e-mail spammers to send junk e-mail through infected computers. The actual author of the worm remains unknown. The worm was transmitted via e-mail with a subject line like “Mail Delivery System Error.”  The mail contains an attachment that resends the worm to e-mail addresses found in the user’s address book and also copies itself to the “shared folder” of peer-to-peer sharing applications (like Kazaa, at the time) in order to spread through file exchanges.  Versions of MyDoom have continued to resurface as recently as July 2009, targeting Web sites belonging to the White House, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, National Security Agency, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Defense and the State Department, as well as sites in South Korea including the Ministry of Defense. Photo Credit: Michael_Chavarria
    Leap-A (aka. Oompa-Loompa) – 2006
  • Leap-A (aka. Oompa-Loompa) – 2006

    While most of the viruses in this list have been targeted at PC systems, Apple has been significantly less vulnerable to attack — with its market share appreciably smaller, a hacker targeting a Mac won’t hit as many targets. But, the Leap did. Whether it is a virus, worm or Trojan horse is not exactly clear. It infects Mac computers running the iChat instant messaging program.  It searches through the user's iChat contact and sends corrupted files to each user through an attached JPEG image. It causes infected programs to stop running — which is actually helpful, because users couldn’t launch infected applications. Photo Credit: kyz
    Storm Worm (aka. Peacomm a.k.a. Nuwar) – 2007
  • Storm Worm (aka. Peacomm a.k.a. Nuwar) – 2007

    The Storm Worm is a Trojan horse program that affects computers using Microsoft operating systems. It began by infecting computers in Europe and the U.S. using an e-mail message with the subject line “230 dead as storm batters Europe.” There were six waves of attacks that followed, and the Storm Worm became a global epidemic within four days. Once the infected attachment is opened, the computer is compromised and becomes merged into a botnet — a network of zombie machines.  It isn’t that hard to detect or even avoid downloading, but it was one of the most widespread in years. Photo Credit: mlabowicz
    Want to know more?
  • Want to know more?

    Viruses aren't the only Internet creepers you should fear, identity thefts are also out there. Here are seven tips to tell if an online business is safe. Photo Credit: Don Hankins
    Join us on Facebook
  • Join us on Facebook

    Join the MainStreet team and other readers on our lively Facebook page! Discuss our newest stories and get links to breaking content, automatically. Click here to add us. Photo Credit: lawtonchiles
Show Comments