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Over the years, the motives for malware creation have ranged from simple curiosity to monetary gain. In the case of the Alvi brothers from Pakistan, it was revenge, dished up on a floppy disk.

The Alvi brothers — Basit, 17, and Amjad Farooq, 24 —had written some medical software and discovered the circulation of pirated copies. Particularly troubled by American university students using pirated software, they created Brain, a boot sector MS-DOS virus that traveled via floppy disk.

When a user inserted a floppy carrying Brain, the disk checked the system’s BIOS for evidence of the pirated software. If the scan was clean, no problem; if it wasn’t, Brain activated, overwriting the disk’s memory, slowing the computer’s hard drive, and adding a personalized message to the boot sector.

A virus that was intended to teach a lesson

The personalized message encouraged affected users to contact the brothers. That message revealed the identity of the Alvi brothers, including their phone number and address in Lahore, Pakistan (the location of their company, also named Brain). Initial reports of Brain’s existence first surfaced in January 1986. Students at the University of Delaware were among the earliest affected; later, the virus spread to newspapers such as the Providence Journal-Bulletin, where Brain erased several months of a reporter’s work.

Infected users began calling the brothers for assistance (“outrageously,” the brothers have said in interviews). The creators would explain they hadn’t meant Brain to be malicious but rather a friendly warning about copyright infringement. They’d even included a counter in the code to see how far the virus traveled.

Brain Telecommunication Ltd. is still going strong in Pakistan to this day.

Photo: Orla / 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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