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Rahul Thadani
The first computer virus was designed for an Apple computer, by a 15 year old
February 6, 2013

Apple MacBook

Contrary to popular belief, the first widespread computer virus that actively spread ‘in-the-wild’ was designed to target Apple computers. This might surprise some staunch Apple users who still feel that their Macs are completely invincible and cannot be infected with any kind of malware whatsoever. In this post we will discuss the Elk Cloner virus, the first mainstream computer virus, which affected Apple II computers.

How was the Elk Cloner virus born?
The Elk Cloner virus was created in 1982; while in contrast, the first Microsoft OS virus (Brain) only surfaced in 1986 after a gap of 4 years. This is a fact that all Apple users who claim their Macs are completely secure should know. This virus was the first self-replicating computer program to spread on a large scale. Interestingly, the term ‘virus’ was only coined in 1984 to refer to a self-perpetuating program that caused inconvenience. So it is safe to say that the Elk Cloner virus had a major role in this nomenclature.

Elk Cloner was created by a 15 year old called Rich Skrenta who was in the 9th grade at the time. The virus was initially created as a joke and was only meant to be part of a game. Skrenta had absolutely no clue that his creation would reach such commendable heights. The virus spread via floppy disks, which were very popular at the time, and attached itself to Apple 3.3 operating systems.

Rich Skrenta

Skrenta was already infamous amongst his friends for playing around with floppy disks and rigging them to shut down machines or display taunting messages. This led many of them to refuse disks handed over by Skrenta which in turn led him to develop a code that could self-replicate and spread to machines by itself.
(Source: Wikipedia)

What did the Elk Cloner virus do?
The Elk Cloner virus was the first virus in history that affected a machine during its boot-up process. Today, the popular term for such viruses is ‘boot sector virus’.

The virus affected the boot sector of infected Apple machines by attaching itself to an innocent looking game. Every 50th time that the machine would boot up, a blank screen and a poem would flash on the screen.

Elk Cloner

When a machine booted from an infected floppy disk, the virus would enter its memory. But when an uninfected floppy disk was inserted into a compromised machine, the virus would get transferred to that disk. Apart from this, no serious harm was known to have been caused by the Elk Cloner virus.

The virus bears very little resemblance to the malicious data stealing programs of today. However, it was a harbinger of all the malicious viruses and security threats that would only grow over time as more people purchased computers and then got connected to the Internet.

So the next time you hear an Apple user say that Macs do not get viruses that a Windows machine contracts, you can boldly claim that Apple was the first platform to get infected by a large-scale and self-replicating computer virus. The Elk Cloner virus, created 4 years before a Microsoft virus, heralded the arrival of massive malware over the increasingly popular Windows platform and other Mac related malware.

If there is one compelling lesson that can be learned here, it is this – No machine is completely invincible against malware threats, not even Apple Macs.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

Rahul Thadani
About Rahul Thadani
Rahul is a web enthusiast and blogger, and has been writing about the computer security industry for the last three years. Following the latest technology trends,...
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34 Comments

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  1. PRITAM TEWANEYFebruary 8, 2013 at 8:24 PM

    WOW! This NEWS to me! Thanks for this piece of valuable information!
    PRITAM TEWANEY
    PANAMA
    +507-66754701
    http://www.aiyellow.me

    Reply
  2. this is very good for my pc.

    Reply
  3. vivek kumarFebruary 8, 2013 at 9:03 PM

    wooowwww dis is a new knowledge about computer virus 4 me..thanks..

    Reply
  4. why do people still write ‘virus’ programmes?

    Reply
  5. Apple is not only the fruit available in the market.There are others too.

    Reply
  6. Dr. S. ZahoorFebruary 9, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    Got to know the origin of VIRUS – any way thats dudes

    Reply
  7. Thanks to Quick Heal For the great News. I would like to follow the story.

    Ajit

    Reply
  8. Thanks for the valuable info… Any ideas about whether there are any viruses on the Linux platform???

    Reply
  9. Adit BhargavaFebruary 9, 2013 at 1:04 PM

    COOL…

    Reply
  10. Suman ThakurFebruary 9, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    thanks for your g.k tips

    Reply
  11. Suman ThakurFebruary 9, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    thanks a lot

    Reply
  12. Shankar Kadam.February 9, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    Thankx to give this important information.
    +91 7588097295

    Reply
  13. That is just the starting of viruses, that boy was brilliant to create the first virus for mac in 15 years of age…it is actually making me jealous.

    Reply
  14. Aveek DuttaFebruary 9, 2013 at 3:11 PM

    Facts … more facts …

    Reply
  15. Inreresting info. Yes, No machine is completely invincible but can we say that the apple in mostly invincible !

    Reply
  16. syed muniruddinFebruary 9, 2013 at 9:58 PM

    I fail to understand as to why anyone would like to harm innocent owners of PC’s. So I remain in a confused state.

    Reply
  17. syed muniruddinFebruary 9, 2013 at 10:04 PM

    I just don’t know why anyone would like to harm the unsuspecting,innocent owners of PC’s with viruses. What motivates them to do such dirty work? Is there any law against such offenders?

    Reply
  18. thanx for the info

    Reply
  19. Gaurav DeshpandeFebruary 10, 2013 at 12:52 PM

    OMG!!!!!!
    but nowadays apple computers are more secure than windows

    Reply
  20. Thanks for history. enliven with facts, it speaks volumes.

    Reply
  21. How interesting…..!

    Reply
  22. THANKS FOR THIS USEFUL INFORMATION.

    Reply
  23. That is really a great information Keep us inform about the updates in cyber crimes. Thanks

    Reply
  24. My Quick Heal Internet Security is not working properly
    It is not detecting viruses, is not activating, is not installing
    What shall i do?

    Reply
  25. Thanks for Info.

    Reply
  26. ONKOKAME TAUETSILEFebruary 11, 2013 at 4:54 PM

    This is extreemly rediculous,and thanks for this useful information.

    Reply
  27. karan rathoreFebruary 11, 2013 at 5:51 PM

    so quite software

    Reply
  28. I recently noticed a new icon “Windows CardSpace” in control panel. I am afraid is this a kind of virus or such. Please tell me about this. if it is malicious, please tell me how to remove it from my machine. I am using XP3. I am not so quite sure, I noticed it after installing and uninstalling of nero burnlite 10… Any suggetions would be of great help…

    Thanks…

    Reply
    • Hi Ram,
      Windows CardSpace is a legitimate Windows application. If you got your PC in 2011, or before, then it is ok for this program to be present in your machine. So you do not need to worry.
      Regards.

      Reply
  29. Really very nice information shared Rahul.

    It means only due to popularity and bulk share of Microsoft it is specially targeted

    Reply
  30. Martim GomesOctober 22, 2015 at 2:39 PM

    Very informative article, thanks! That a lesson to those parents, which thinks that your child shouldn’t spend a lot of time on the computer. This has become famous at the age of 15! And I want to add, that I’ve read on http://www.removalbits.com/ that I was really hard to threat those first viruses, they where really invincible!

    Reply