Internet Archive's malware museum takes you back to the days of cheeky viruses

The Internet Archive is creating a repository of the darker aspects of computer culture: malware.

Before there were botnets, the MyDoom worm, and Stuxnet, malware that hit your DOS personal computer was of a completely different breed. Some were simply annoying, some would corrupt files or mess with your system, but they all did it with style.

Now you can relive the magic of malware from the 1980s and 1990s courtesy of the Internet Archive’s brand new Malware Museum. Here, through the safety of an in-browser DOS simulator, you can relive some of the highlights of malware from yesteryear. This initial collection was created by Jason Scott, archivist and software curator for the Internet Archive, and Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer of F-Secure.

To ensure visitor safety, all viruses have been neutered by removing any destructive routines contained within. All that’s left are some semi-amusing DOS-based computer graphics with a slightly cheeky edge.

Currently, the malware museum contains 65 examples in its collection—mostly viruses. There’s Ambulance, which shows an animated ASCII ambulance run across your screen, complete with sound, and then crash into a brick wall. Another one called Italian simply shows the Italian flag on your screen accompanied by the profound message, “ITALY IS THE BEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.”

There’s also an example of the Frodo virus, a stealth virus that displays “FRODO LIVES” on the computer screens of infected users every September 22—the birth date of Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. But it wasn’t just a cute annoyance. The virus could also corrupt data files and get up to other nasty behaviors on an infected system.

The impact on you at home: It’s a lot of fun to look at the viruses from the DOS days when malware was the digital equivalent of scrawling on a bathroom wall. A museum of current viruses, by comparison, wouldn’t contain such friendly or amusing pieces. It’s still early days for the malware museum, but one thing that’s missing is an explanation of each virus and what its impact was. Over time, hopefully a knowledgeable volunteer or three will create a better picture of what these viruses were like in their own time.

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