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Mac Defender is NOT Apple's first malware, Elk Cloner is.

Mac Defender may have triggered panic in the Apple community for the past several weeks, busting myth that Macs are virus-proof, but it cannot claim the distinction of being the first malware to attack Apple computers.

About 30 years ago, a malware was released by a 15-year-old high school student Rich Skrenta whose aim was to play prank on and simply scare his school friends who used Apple II systems.

Skrenta used to play pranks on his friends by "altering copies of pirated games to self-destruct after a number of plays."

"I'd give out a new game, they'd get hooked, but then the game would stop working with a snickering comment from me on the screen (9th grade humor at work here)," said Skrenta quoted by Symentec.

But his friends soon discovered his pranks and stopped him from getting near their disks. This did not stop the prankster, who subsequently thought of a way to spread the bug without physically getting his hand on the disk.

The malware, known as Elk Cloner, was thus born and became one of the first known computer virus to spread on public computers.

The technique, now called "boot sector" virus, is nothing new now but was groundbreaking 30 years back, which automatically copies the virus from infected disk to the computer's memory. The infected computer will also copy the virus to other disks that are inserted into the computer's disk drive. Skrenta was able to initiate the spread by first infecting the school computers that used Apple II operating systems.

The virus was said to cause no serious harm but only to display a silly poem, presumably written by the 15-year old, on the computer screen at every 50th boot:

Elk Cloner: The program with a personality

It will get on all your disks

It will infiltrate your chips

Yes it's Cloner!

It will stick to you like glue

It will modify ram too

Send in the Cloner!

Skrenta, a Northwestern University graduate, is now a Silicon Valley based computer programmer and entrepreneur who started online search engine Blekko.
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Publication:International Business Times - US ed.
Date:May 31, 2011
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