The Very Beginning:
While there is some contention about who actually made the first overtly harmful computer virus, it is fairly well accepted (though sometimes challenged) that Bernd Fix developed the first anti-virus software in 1987. Fix, a German astrophysicist and amateur computer programmer (at the time), developed software to combat the first computer virus “in the wild,” which means that the virus had escaped the confines of the lab or network in which it was created (which was only done via floppy disk at that time).
A year later, Fred Cohen (who was the first to author a paper years earlier about computer viruses) began to develop anti-virus software that was picked up by developers. At the same time, there was a mailing list on the BITNET/EARN network (a precursor to the Internet) that dealt with the possibilities of computer viruses and how to combat them. Eugene Kaspersky (creator of Kaspersky Anti-Virus) and John McAfee (who later went onto create McAfee Anti-Virus) were both members of this mailing list.
How They Spread:
During these times, the only way you could usually get a computer virus was by inserting an infected floppy disk into your computer. With the advent of the Internet, however, all bets were off. Now computer viruses had an easy way to get into millions of computers at once. The easiest way for a computer to get infected was via an email attachment. By virtue of simply clicking on an infected attachment, you were giving the virus full access to your computer. As computers got more advanced, so too did viruses. No longer did you have to open an attachment; all you had to do was open the email. Then, you didn’t even have to open the email; all you had to do was read it in your preview panel to get infected. Then there were the malicious websites that could upload viruses to your computer if you visited them.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, now we know that computer viruses can not only simply wreak havoc on your machine; they can also steal valuable personal information that could have long-term detrimental effects on your life and livelihood.