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Computer viruses have been around since the early 1970s when the Creeper virus was first detected on ARPANET, the precursor to the internet. Despite the millions spent on programs like Norton AntiVirus and McAfee, they're still alive and kicking – and their terrifying capacity for destruction has inspired artists to create the Computer Virus Catalog, an illustrated guide to some of the worst computer viruses the world has ever seen.
"There's a real beauty to the sophistication of some of the viruses," explains Bas van de Poel, a Dutch creative who curated the viral selections in the gallery. "Viruses like Stuxnet and Flame are incredibly complex – not just in terms of codes, but also on a geopolitical level."
"To me it's really fascinating that the US and Israel work together to create this super virus designed to take down nuclear centrifuges in Iran," he continues, referring to Stuxnet, which infected Iran's nuclear facilities and tore apart their centrifuges. "But I also really appreciate the less sophisticated, early DOS viruses. It's amazing how far the programmers managed to push the visual aesthetics in a text based OS. The LSD and Beda virus are great examples."
Viruses even come with a story. The Melissa virus, which caused more than $80 million in damage to North American businesses, was allegedly named after the creator's favourite stripper; the Kenzero Trojan, one of the most malignant computer viruses in history, infected the databases of users, stealing their browser histories and making them public before blackmailing the user for its removal. Evil.
Some viruses even came with their own fucked-up sense of humour, timed to the spirit of the decade. The Olympic AIDS virus was launched to coincide with the 1994 Winter Olympics held in Lillehammer, Norway. A user infected the virus would see the following screen pop up:
"ATTENTION I have been elected to inform you that throughout your process of collecting and executing files, you have accdientally ¶HÜ¢KΣ► [PHUCKED] yourself over: again, that's PHUCKED yourself over. No, it cannot be; YES, it CAN be, a √ìτûs [virus] has infected your system. Now what do you have to say about that? HAHAHAHAHA. Have ¶HÜÑ [PHUN] with this one and remember, there is NO cure for AIDS."
Computer viruses are modern myths – invisible, malicious demons that have frightened entire nations with their power. And the best viruses in their league are dangerous, sophisticated and malevolent: all perfect attributes to inspire art, right?
Follow Thomas Gorton on Twitter here @angstromhoot