The History of Cyber Security 1987-1999

The History of Cyber Security 1987-1999

The birth - the first commercial antivirus, Bernd Fix, IBM, 1990, the first anti-antivirus system, e-mails and other threats  

Our last digression about the history of cyber security ended in 1986 with the successful attacks of the German Markus Hess, who managed to attack about 400 military computers and main computers in the Pentagon. But what happened next?  

Only a year later, the first antivirus programs appeared on the market. Who actually offered "the" first commercial antivirus is difficult to trace and is still debated today, there are three sides claiming the first place:  

  • The first contender is John McAfee, who founded McAfee, then as part of Intel Security, and released his first virus scan  
  • Also listed in pole position is Ultimate Virus Killer, released by Andreas Lüning Kai Figge, for the Atari ST  
  • Another hot contender is the first version of NOD Antivirus, NOD-ICE, developed by Miroslav Trnka and Peter Paško 

Also notable events in 1987 were the first wild virus documented by Bernd Fix. In the documentary you can see how Fix neutralized the infamous Vienna Virus, a very early malware that corrupted files. Also this year the Cascade virus appeared. This very aggressive virus attacked and encrypted .COM files. The Belgian branch of IBM was particularly affected. IBM took this as a reason to develop an antivirus program exclusively for internal use.  

In the following years, many companies emerged which offered antivirus software and still offer it today. The initial scanners were simple in structure, so they searched for unique code sequences that could be assigned to known viruses. Also some of the scanners had so-called "immunizers". These fooled viruses into thinking that the attacked computer was already infected. However, the "immunizer" quickly lost its effect as the number of viruses grew stronger. The bigger problem, however, was that the Internet was not yet ubiquitous - meaning antivirus systems could only react to what was already happening. Regular updates, as they are provided today by every antivirus manufacturer, were still a long way off. The rest of the world also became aware. Of the danger that was waiting on the Internet. To the danger, for the data, which were on the computers. That's why forums and newspapers were created, dedicated to this increasingly complex topic, and made it their business to inform their subscribers about the latest developments and dangers.  

The turn of the decades from the 1980s to the 1990s triggered some noteworthy events already in the first year, 1990. For example, the first polymorphic viruses were developed. What is a polymorphic virus? Simply put it is a code that mutates to avoid detection. Also, a magazine took center stage: PC Today, a British newspaper, published an issue in which a free floppy disk was included. On this diskette was the so-called DiskKiller virus, how it got onto these disks is unclear. PC Today insisted and still insists that it was an accident. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of computers were infected with the DiskKiller virus through these infectious floppy disks. Also, in 1990, EICAR was founded. EICAR stands for European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research and set itself the task of establishing certain standards but also to track the development of viruses. As a result, antivirus systems improved in the coming years. While these still produced many false alarms due to the fact that they were signature-based and compared entered data sets, thus consuming computing power, the antivirus programs became more and more accurate.  

Due to the fact that several and better anti-virus systems came on the market, the attackers "had" to defend themselves. In 1992, the first anti-virus system appeared on the market and was widely used.  

Until 1996, the attackers outdid themselves in inventing new malware, which had other methods of infiltration besides polymorphism. Particularly noteworthy were the stealth capability and the so-called macro viruses. This required antivirus software to constantly keep up and keep their programs permanently defensible. Also, the number of new viruses and malware exploded from the half of the 90s. While there were tens of thousands at the beginning of the decade, there were steadily more. By 2007, 5 million new malware programs were released every year. So even then the realization matured that the issue of security was inescapable for every user. After all, in addition to the dangers, the number of users of the Internet, which had become established, was also growing. And NASA came to the aid of the Internet and its users: a researcher developed the first firewall. In fact, Marcus J. Ranum based it on the physical standards that fire protection in buildings had to meet - hence the name firewall.  

In the last years of the 90s there were conflicts between developers of antivirus software. McAfee, for example, openly accused Dr. Solomon's of fraud, and the latter filed a lawsuit against these accusatory words himself. McAfee itself got caught in the crossfire: McAfee and Symantec were accused by Trend Micro of infringing their patent of their virus scanner, which could check the Internet and e-mails. Symantec then turned its sword on McAfee, accusing it of using Symantec Norton AntiVirus code in its McAfee software. But despite all the prevailing dispute, the antivirus programs still made a big step forward, through the so-called heuristic detection it was possible for future scanners to detect even more difficult and better hidden malicious code sequences and thus protect the user.  

Many made their grand entrance on the Internet, but none changed the nature of communication as much as email. And these became more and more popular and thus ubiquitous towards the end of the 90s. However, even then, a new threat to our data and our devices emerged. In the last year of the millennium, a new threat emerged: the Melissa virus. This malicious malware sent copies of itself to the first 50 email addresses in Microsoft Office. To date, the Melissa virus has been one of the fastest spreading malware. It cost nearly $80 million to fix the damage caused by the Melissa virus.  

In our next post, we will cover the 2000s. For that, follow our blog and social media channels. Do you have any questions about this article or about QUANTUM cyber lab AG products and services? Then please do not hesitate and contact us, our team will be happy to take the time to answer your questions and advise you in detail.  

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