On any given day, computers in Apple Valley, Hesperia, Victorville, and across the High Desert are being infected with malware. From keyloggers to ransomware and from Trojans to spyware, malicious programs affect millions of computer users around the world and cause billions of dollars in economic losses, and computer security analysts believe that this is a situation that is only bound to worsen in years to come.

Three decades ago, the forecast for the computer security industry was cautious, but it did not present the level of urgency seen today. Still, the nascent technology news media was quick to report about the first computer virus identified “in the wild” on January 19, 1986.

The Brain PC virus was designed to spread via floppy disks and infect hard drives. It did not affect Windows computers; it was actually designed to attack desktop systems running the Microsoft Disk Operating System, known as MS/DOS. The virus was created by two brothers who ran a computer shop in the Lahore, a major city located in the northeast region of Pakistan.

Relatively Benign Virus

In terms of destructive capacity, the Brain virus did not do much. Once it infected the host, it would rewrite the name of the boot sector to @BRAIN, and it would seek to write itself into new floppy disks inserted into the 5 1/4 drives that were popular in the mid-1980s. Whoever discovered the virus and viewed its code could read the names of the virus writers and their telephone number; in fact, years later this internal message contained the contact information of a major Internet service provider in Pakistan.

The Brain virus writers acted as gray-hat hackers in the sense that they mostly wished to expose the defective security of personal and business computer systems in the days prior to the World Wide Web. Since the Brain virus did not destroy data or stole information, it would be considered to be very tame these days. The stealth execution of its code, however, was very alarming and helped form the Internet security community, an important sector of 21st-century society.