An newly built online archive of old computer malware has managed to attract thousands of visitors since it launched last week.

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It can be easy to think that serious malware and cybercrime are somehow products of the 21st Century. There’s hardly a week goes by without either me or Arianna posting a news story relating to some latest company or government hack, or some new ransomware menace surfaces threatening to encrypt or sell your personal information.

But it wasn’t always like this

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Back in the 1980s and 1990s, viruses and malware were often written by so called ‘happy’ hackers as opposed to organized criminals,whose real aim was to prove their coding genius by creating annoying jokes rather than the apocalyptic dooms day threats we’re used to seeing these days.

It was, to all intents and purposes, young men sitting alone in their bedrooms  like a teenage  Matthew Broderick, experimenting with the limits of their coding abilities. It was a far happier, and more innocent time.

Back to the Future

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But now, if you want, you can go back and relive the happy days of malware yore via Malware’s very own museum of antiquity. The virus museum is currently being hosted at the Internet Archive.

The Malware Museum consists of viruses mostly written and distributed for MS-DOS home based computers. A lot of them probably aren’t really even malware, not in the way we use the term today.  In fact, very few, if any were actually designed with financial gain in mind. The worst that could be said of many of them, is that they are annoying. But then these old viruses were all about making sure that users knew they’d been virussed. 

Stealth, and avoiding detection are guaranteed hallmarks of 21st century malware, but back in the 80’s and 90’s it was often as much about prestige as anything else. As a result, the collection does steer toward mischief and high jinks. But there was still some fairly sinister stuff out there.

Resident Evil

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The viruses now resident in the museum are completely safe to view, with the actual destructive parts of their code either having been removed or rendered safe, even though there wasn’t all that much a danger to modern computers in the first place. Indeed, it’s highly unlikely, that any of them could even be ran in a modern Windows environment.  But that said, it is a nostalgic walk down memory lane to be actually able to see what the viruses of yesteryear actually did to computers.

You can visit the Malware Museum, here.