A Brief History of Antivirus Software

by Keith Williams

People that have been around computers and the Internet since their inception are probably a little more familiar with where certain products like antivirus software came from. However, all new computer users probably have no idea why antivirus software came into existence or what purpose it serves, all they really know is that it is recommended as a security software program and from what they've heard they need it on their system. What most people don't realize is that regardless of whether or not you know why it was invented, or what it is intended to be used for, if you don't use it properly it will be ineffective.

At the onset of the computer age, somewhere around the early 1980s, personal computer systems were offered commercially for customers to purchase and use at home. During these early stages there were very few viruses on the Internet. This information resource was new to everybody, and most people simply wanted the freedom to perform like-minded business tasks from the comfort of their home. Early versions of computer related viruses were in the form of email attachments and were self-replicating software programs that were designed to be more of a nuisance than anything else. They were troublesome to deal with, yet they hardly caused the problems we see viruses creating today.

It was during the mid to latter half of the 1980s that personal computers really took off, both commercially as well as at the office. Typewriters that had served a useful purpose for so many years began being replaced by fully functional computer systems that could do the same job in half the time and had the added advantage of storing the document for future corrections and editing procedures. With all of these new systems coming online there were now an abundance of suitable targets for programmers to aim their viruses towards, and things really started to get ugly for personal computer users as well as for companies that had begun using these computers in the office place.

In these early stages information was usually transferred from one computer to another by way of floppy disks since most of these computers were not online in the home, only in the office. Therefore little antivirus protection was required. All a person had to do was protect their floppy disks and they were relatively safe. Computer virus developers originally designed their devices to corrupt a system or the data stored on them. Therefore backing up a system often usually alleviated the need for additional security. Some software companies recognized the need for antivirus software protection and began developing adequate security programs to help eliminate these pesky virus infections.

It wasn't until people started copying infected files to floppy disks from the office computer to use on their personal computers at home that viruses really became a major problem. Once more and more home computers started coming online and accessing the Internet the problem of computer viruses began to escalate and the need for better antivirus protection became evident.

Early antivirus software programs were very simple in nature and continue to be so even today. When these products first became available they were seldom updated and in essence were basically ineffective once a new virus was launched. Antivirus software companies came out with a new version once a year that was basically able to deal with the viruses that were detected the year before. As the technology for writing computer programs continued to increase, so did the penchant for rogue computer programmers to invent newer viruses, which simultaneously meant that antivirus companies needed to establish better techniques in designing their software programs. Antivirus software today, although much better than their predecessors, still has a lot of the same problems. The technology used to write these programs is ineffective against new zero day viruses, which ultimately means that virus creators will always have the upper hand in this ongoing battle.

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