Today in History – November 10, 1983 – Fred Cohen presented to a security seminar the results of his test on the first documented virus, created as an experiment in computer security.
The first virus in the wild was found earlier in 1981 on the Apple II, spread on floppy disks containing the operating system. The author of the Elk Cloner virus was Rich Skrenta, a ninth grade student at the time.
Created while he was studying for a PhD at the University of Southern California, Cohen was the first to demonstrate a working example on a computer system and present the results in a public forum. A year later, his research was published in a paper where he defined a virus as “a program that can ‘infect’ other programs by modifying them to include a … version of itself”.
This experiment in creating a hazard in order to prevent an even worse one provides an interesting case in computer privacy, security, responsibility and engineering ethics. A well designed virus can have a devastating effect on society, disrupting work, communications and causing billions of dollars in damages. Their success shows how interconnected human beings have become on the Internet and how dependent we have become on its stable operations.
See the Engineering Pathway’s educational resources on computer viruses and internet security. For more on related curricular programs and educational resources visit the Software Engineering Education, theComputer Science Education, the Information Systems Education or the Information Technology Education community sites. We also have an interdisciplinary community in Engineering Ethics Education.
Also on this day in history in 1903, Granville T. Woods, a famous black American inventor, received a patent for an “Electric Railway” (U.S. No. 729,481). Woods held numerous other patents relating to the electric railway, electrical devices, brakes, and telegraphy for railways.