Elk Cloner

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Elk Cloner
Common name Elk Cloner
Technical name N/A
Aliases N/A
Family N/A
Classification Computer virus
Type Apple II series
Subtype Boot sector virus
Isolation 1982
Point of isolation Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, United States
Point of Origin Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, United States
Author(s) Rich Skrenta

Elk Cloner is one of the first known microcomputer viruses that spread "in the wild", i.e., outside the computer system or laboratory in which it was written.[1][2][3] It attached itself to the Apple II operating system and spread by floppy disk. It was written around 1982 by a 15-year-old high school student, Rich Skrenta. It was originally a joke, created and put onto a game disk.

Infection and symptoms[edit]

Elk Cloner spread by infecting the Apple DOS 3.3 operating system using a technique now known as a "boot sector" virus. It was attached to a game, the game was then set to play. The 50th time the game was started, the virus was released, but instead of playing the game, it would change to a blank screen that displayed a poem about the virus named Elk Cloner. If a computer booted from an infected floppy disk, a copy of the virus was placed in the computer's memory. When an uninfected disk was inserted into the computer, the entire DOS (including Elk Cloner) would be copied to the disk, allowing it to spread from disk to disk.[4] To prevent the DOS from being continually re-written each time the disk was accessed, Elk Cloner also wrote a signature byte to the disk's directory, indicating that it had already been infected.

The poem that Elk Cloner would display was as follows:

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!

Elk Cloner did not cause deliberate harm, but Apple DOS disks without a standard image had their reserved tracks overwritten.[5]

Development[edit]

Elk Cloner was created as a prank in 1981 by Rich Skrenta, a 15-year-old high school student. Skrenta already had a notoriety among his friends because, in sharing computer games and software, he would often alter the floppy disks to shut down or display taunting on-screen messages. Due to this reputation for pranks, many of his friends simply stopped accepting floppy disks from him. Skrenta thought of methods to alter floppy disks without physically touching them. During a winter break from Mt. Lebanon High School in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Skrenta discovered how to launch the messages automatically on his Apple II computer. He developed what is now known as a boot sector virus, and began circulating it in early 1982 among high school friends and a local computer club. Twenty-five years later in 2007, Skrenta called it "some dumb little practical joke."[6][7][8]

Distribution[edit]

According to contemporary reports, the virus was rather contagious, successfully infecting the floppies of most people Skrenta knew, and upsetting many of them.[citation needed] Part of the "success", of course, was that people were not at all wary of the potential problem, nor were virus scanners or cleaners available. The virus could be removed using Apple's MASTER CREATE utility or other utilities to re-write a fresh copy of DOS to the infected disk. Furthermore, once Elk Cloner was removed, the previously-infected disk would not be re-infected since it already contained the Elk Cloner "signature" in its directory.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Elk Cloner". Retrieved 2010-12-10. 
  2. ^ "Top 10 Computer Viruses: No. 10 - Elk Cloner". Retrieved 2010-12-10. 
  3. ^ "List of Computer Viruses Developed in 1980s". Retrieved 2010-12-10. 
  4. ^ Top ten worst viruses
  5. ^ "First virus hatched as a practical joke". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2007-09-03. 
  6. ^ The computer virus turns 25 Salon.com Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  7. ^ A 20-year plague | CNET News.com
  8. ^ A History of Viruses

External links[edit]