19 January 1986: first PC virus infection

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” 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.

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 cyberwarfare.