19 January 1986: the world’s first PC virus infection

On this day in 1986, the first IBM personal computer was infected with the “Brain” virus, spread on floppy disks.

You might think that in the days before the internet, computer viruses just wouldn't exist. Yet, on this day in 1986, three years after being named “Man of the Year”, the personal computer got sick with the first PC virus. The culprit was the “Brain” virus, which was spread on 5.25-inch floppy disks. It was created by two brothers in Pakistan, Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi, aged 17 and 24. They ran a software business and were having problems with piracy, so they added the virus to the disks containing their software to combat it.

The virus infected the boot sector of the disk, but did relatively little damage. The creators claim it was a “friendly virus”, unlike the more devastating viruses used by cyber criminals today. When a PC was infected, the volume label was changed to read “Brain”, and the following message appeared: Welcome to the Dungeon (c) 1986 Basit & Amjad (pvt) Ltd. BRAIN COMPUTER SERVICES 730 NIZAB BLOCK ALLAMA IQBAL TOWN LAHORE-PAKISTAN PHONE :430791,443248,280530. Beware of this VIRUS.... Contact us for vaccination............ $#@%$@!! Soon, people started calling. The first call was from a woman working on a magazine in Miami, wanting to know how to remove it.

The brothers still operate Brain Telecommunication with a third brother, from the same office in Lahore as they wrote the virus in back in 1986. Now, however, their business is one of Pakistan's biggest internet service providers.

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Today, of course, viruses are serious business. They fly around the world at the speed of light – literally, in some cases causing billions of pounds' worth of damage every year. And they are not only created by computer nerds in their bedrooms. As the infamous Stuxnet shows, they are a now an integral component in state cyber warfare.

Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

Ben joined MoneyWeek as website editor in 2008, just as the Great Financial Crisis was brewing. He has written extensively for the website and magazine, with a particular emphasis on alternative finance and fintech, including blockchain and bitcoin. As an early adopter of bitcoin, Ben bought when the price was under $200, but went on to spend it all on foolish fripperies.