The ‘world’s first’ stories have been shared online for years, they’re usually no more than just a picture with the claim that what it depicts is the first of it’s kind.
They rarely add any more information, even the most basic bit of background is left out and the questions from followers are ignored.
There are even social media accounts that post nothing but these claims, often not caring about if they are factual, only gathering as many followers and retweets as possible before they start posting sponsored messages or sell the account.
Don’t retweet or follow them.
This is one of those pictures, it claims it shows world’s first computer virus.
It does show a virus, the MacMag virus to be exact, here’s a slightly clearer picture of the screen;
It was created by Richard Brandow and Drew Davidson in 1988 and was relatively harmless.
It only infected Macintosh computers and all it did was show a massage of peace.
Which is nice, but was it the first?
To find out which virus was the first we have to first agree on the definition;
“A piece of code which is capable of copying itself and typically has a detrimental effect, such as corrupting the system or destroying data.” (OED 2010)
So just to be sure, it does not need to be spread via the internet.
The MacMag virus was predated by several other computer viruses, here’s a short list of the ones I could find, there may have been more and even earlier ones, if you know any, get in touch.
- “Creeper worm” 1971
- “Wabbit” 1974
- “Animal” 1975
- “Elk cloner” 1982
- “Brain” 1986
- “Vienna” 1987
- “SCA virus” 1987
- “Lehigh” 1987
- “World’s first things twitter virus” 2021. 😉
So it seems that, for now, the 1971 “Creeper worm” was the first virus, there was an earlier attack on the Burroughs 5500 at the University of Washington Computer Center in 1969, but I don’t think it, technically, qualifies as a virus.
I stopped adding viruses to the list with the ones that appeared in 1987 because that’s when things started getting out of hand.
But the “Morris” virus from 1988 deserves a special mention as it was the first that spread via the internet.
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