In the early 1990s, when personal computers were still a novelty, the world was terrified by the emergence of the very first PC virus—Brain. Nearly three decades later, security expert Mikko Hypponen decided to take an investigative journey to Lahore, Pakistan to find the creators of this malicious program. Join us in this 10-minute video reportage as we follow Hypponen on his fascinating quest!
Mikko Hypponen is a world-renowned computer security expert and the Chief Research Officer at F-Secure. He has been tracking down malware and viruses for over three decades, and is widely considered to be one of the foremost experts in the field. In 2012, Forbes named him one of the most influential people in technology.
In 2015, Mikko embarked on a fascinating journey to Lahore, Pakistan, to track down the creators of the first PC virus. The virus in question, known as Brain, was created in 1986 and caused havoc on computers worldwide. Despite its age, Brain is still considered one of the most destructive viruses ever created.
The Mystery of the Brain Virus
In the early days of computing, viruses were relatively simple and easy to spot. But as computers became more sophisticated, so did the viruses that infected them. In the late 1980s, a new type of virus appeared: the brain virus.
These viruses were different from other types of malware in that they were designed to be challenging to detect and remove. They would often infect a computer’s boot sector, making it impossible to start the machine without infecting it.
Brain viruses were particularly prevalent in Pakistan, where many early PC viruses were created. One of the most infamous was Brain, which was first discovered in 1986. Brain was notable for being the first virus to spread itself via floppy disk successfully.
Mikko Hypponen, a Finnish anti-virus researcher, became interested in Brain after hearing about it from a Pakistani friend. In 2007, he set out on a journey to Lahore, Pakistan, to track down the people responsible for creating the virus.
Hypponen’s journey took him to some of Lahore’s seediest neighborhoods, where he met with informants and tracked down leads. His efforts eventually paid off: he identified two brothers, Amir and Farooq Bhatia, as the masterminds behind Brain.
The Bhatia brothers had no idea that their virus had caused so much damage; they wanted to create something to impress their friends.
Meeting the Creators of Brain Virus: Amjad Farooq Alvi and Basit Farooq Alvi
In the late 1980s, two Pakistani brothers, Amjad Farooq Alvi, and Basit Farooq Alvi created the first PC virus. The virus, which they called Brain, was designed to infect floppy disks and spread itself to other computers.
The brothers were self-taught programmers and used their skills to create software to help them in their studies. They did not intend for their virus to cause any harm; in fact, they included a message in the code that advised users to avoid infection.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with malware, Brain went rogue. The virus quickly spread worldwide, causing damage to billions of dollars. The brothers were arrested and charged with creating a public nuisance in response to the outbreak. They were eventually released on bail and ordered to stop writing code.
Mikko Hypponen, a Finnish security expert, became interested in the story of the Alvi brothers after hearing about their arrest. He set out to find them, eventually tracking them down to Lahore, Pakistan.
In an interview with Hypponen, the brothers denied any responsibility for the damage caused by their virus. They claimed they had no idea that their code would be used for malicious purposes.
While it’s impossible to know if the Alvi brothers are telling the truth, their story provides a fascinating glimpse into the early days of computer viruses. It’s also a reminder of security’s importance, even when it comes to something as seemingly harmless as a computer program.