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Twenty years ago, after dealing with the aftermath of the Melissa virus — launched on March 26 — network administrators weren’t prepared for what happened next. A month later, on April 26, a particularly nasty version of the CIH virus known as Chernobyl struck.

Called Chernobyl because it “launched” on the anniversary of the 1986 nuclear tragedy in the Ukraine, the virus corrupted the BIOS, or basic input output software, of machines running 32-bit Windows 95, 98, and Me. Creator Chen Ing-hau (initials “CIH”) programmed a virus that was difficult to detect. Chernobyl operated as a “space filler,” which meant the virus quietly filled empty space on a machine, lying dormant until the 26th. This ability to fill empty space meant Chernobyl escaped the detection of virus scanners looking for unusual files taking up lots of space. Once activated, Chernobyl could erase a user’s hard drive or corrupt its BIOS.

The aftermath of the Chernobyl virus

Damage in the United States was limited thanks to widespread security precautions and updates made following the Melissa outbreak. Asia and the Middle East were a different story, however. Hundreds of thousands of computers in China, South Korea, and India were affected, with more than $250 million in estimated damages in Korea. In Israel, major financial institutions, an intelligence organization and an Internet Service Provider were all hit. 

Chen Ing-hau initially escaped apprehension, but after a Taiwanese student brought charges against him in 2000 for inhibiting his access to a computer, he was arrested. People recognized an evil genius, however, and he eventually secured a programming job based on his infamy.

Photo:  Inked Pixels / Shutterstock.

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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