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The 6 Deadliest Computer Viruses

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When a computer is infected with a virus, worm, or Trojan it will malfunction, operate more slowly, and sometimes shut down entirely. Just like human illness, a sick computer can manifest a variety of symptoms at a variety of severities and just like humans, computers can die of the infections that plague them. Because computer viruses are also designed to be capable of cycling through the available population for an infinite period of time, it’s important to know the history of these dangerous attackers.

For computer populations employing managed IT services, most of these viruses will sound as arcane as smallpox, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t dangerous and deadly in their time. Here is a list of the six worst viruses the computer world has ever seen.

1. CIH a.k.a. Chernobyl Virus

You know a virus is deadly when it’s nicknamed after a level 7 nuclear disaster. The Chernobyl virus struck in 1998, and set a precedent by infecting every Windows OS from 95 through ME. Chernobyl infected executable files as they opened and operated by the user, and still managed to remain totally undetectable. For creepy points, CIH had a deadline, and once that deadline had passed anything on a hard drive infected with the virus was destroyed.

2. ILOVEYOU

In May of 2000 mailboxes the Philippines became the birthplace for a computer worm of unprecedented success. Because worms (as distinguished from viruses) don’t have the ability to self-replicate, they seek out security weaknesses and exploit them in order to spread from one computer to the next. This little difference can actually make worms more dangerous than standard issue viruses, and ILOVEYOU is an excellent example of a worms power.

ILOVEYOU exposed a default setting in Microsoft Windows by which the scripting engine system remained enabled. When the worm arrived to email in-boxes with the subject heading ILOVEYOU and an attachment promising to enclose a love letter for the recipient and bearing the return address of a familiar name (or email address), the path to destruction had already been laid. By simply opening the attachment the user granted the worm access to image files and the local Outlook address book, which it used to send out identical emails to 50 unwitting new victims.

3. MyDoom

Hitting the scene in 2004, MyDoom broke records previously held by ILOVEYOU, for dissemination speed. A worm, like its famous predecessor, MyDoom arrived via email disguised as a Delivery Status Notification (DSN). While most DSNs do not encourage reply, and simply exist as a notification requiring no action beyond resending the email, MyDoom claimed that users needed to open an attachment in order to determine why the message failed.

As hard as it may be to believe today, many users were duped into opening the attachment, and when they did the worm escaped, replicated itself in the the form of messages to every contact in the victim’s account, and left a copy of itself in a shared folder too, just for good measure. The real reason for MyDoom’s incredible success: a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) against the SCO OpenServer operating system, which sent infected servers to gobble up their bandwidth and block new connections.

4. Sasser & Netsky

An 18-year-old German boy became infamous for designing these two incredibly dangerous and irreverent worms. In a community based on back patting, Sven Jaschan became the rockstar of virus authors by flaunting his devil-may-care attitude and embedding his viruses with code that removed two previous virus powerhouses, Bagle and MyDoom. Unfortunately, young Jaschan angered the all-powerful Microsoft along the way, and the result of the $250 thousand dollar bounty they put on his head? In 2004, a friend of Jaschan’s turned him in.

5. The Storm Worm

Despite its moniker, the Storm Worm is actually a Trojan horse that attacks the Microsoft OS. Trojans are famous for appearing outwardly harmless, while secretly harboring malicious skills and intentions. In 2007, Storm Worm spread via an email with a subject line exclaiming the death of 200+ Europeans due to a violent storm. When the user opened the email their computer was infected and joined a network of zombie computers–or computers that could remotely controlled by an unknown user.

6. Flame

The latest deadly virus that’s giving computer users at home and abroad nightmares is called Flame. Malware designed to attack the Microsoft OS, Flame (or Skywiper, or Flamer) was developed thanks to a cooperation between the US military and the Israeli military. These groups promise that Flame is to be used only in cyber espionage against middle eastern countries like Iran in the event a nuclear program needs to be delayed or halted by force. Some say Flame contains the most complex malware to date, able to record everything from keyboard and network usage to audio and photo.

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