The Creeper virus is the first computer virus ever developed. Bob Thomas created it in 1971 as an experimental self-duplication program. His idea, however, was not to cause harm and damage but merely illustrate how a mobile application works.

Without planning to, the Creeper virus corrupted Digital Equipment Corporation’s PDP-10 mainframe computers operating on the TEN-Extended (TENEX) operating system (OS). It messed up connected teletype computer screens, causing them to display the message, “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!”

While the Creeper virus did corrupt systems, it is not considered a piece of malware like most of today’s computer viruses. The only damage it did was to display a message, nothing more. It did not destroy or steal data, demand a ransom, or render the actual mainframe inoperable.

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How Does the Creeper Virus Work?

While the message the Creeper virus displayed can induce panic, its creator’s intention was not malicious. Thomas’s goal was only to determine if it was possible to develop a program that can spread from one computer to another. The virus allowed him to achieve that.

The Creeper virus works by infecting one computer, causing it to print a file. It will then stop working while looking for another TENEX system. It establishes a connection with that computer and so on. After it’s done with a system, its final payload or effect is to display its message. Unlike a computer worm, Creeper rarely replicates itself. It just jumps from one system to another.

Today, the Creeper virus may appear simplistic, but in 1971, it demonstrated for the first time that an application could automatically move from one computer to another. While modern computer worms cause more damage, Creeper merely annoyed users. The more technical users, though, claimed that its work crowded out other programs.

The Birth of Reaper

The Creeper virus’s development gave birth to Ray Tomlison’s Reaper, the first antivirus software designed to stop threats like it. Interestingly, though, Reaper is a computer worm itself programmed to delete all instances of Creeper in infected computers.

Tips to Prevent the Spread of Malware

Unfortunately, unlike the Creeper virus, present-day malware are often developed with malicious intentions. As such, users need to protect their systems from these. Here are some ways to prevent the spread of viruses or what we know now as “malware”:

Install a Good Antimalware

Block viruses from infecting systems and causing irreparable damage by installing a reliable and trustworthy antimalware. Make sure that it offers protection against as many threats as possible. It is also a good practice to regularly update it to detect new malware as they are discovered.

Ignore Suspicious Emails

Every time you receive an email with an attachment or an embedded link from an unknown source, it is always best to ignore it. Never open its attachment or click the link contained within, as that will most likely run a piece of malware that can harm your computer.

Update All Software Regularly

All software vendors regularly update their programs to protect these from threats. Make it a habit to download and install updates as soon as they become available.

Some highly contest that the Creeper virus was the first computer virus because it was harmless. Then again, the concept of a computer virus did not exist at that time. Others opine that its characteristics were enough to earn the categorization.