Top 10 Computer Viruses and Worms

On the Internet's 40th anniversary, Symantec lists the worst cyber threats.

September 3, 2009, 9:44 AM

Sept. 3, 2009 — -- This fall marks the 40th birthday of the Internet, and to celebrate it, Symantec, the manufacturer of online Security software, has put out a list of the "Top Web Threats in the History of the Internet."

Symantec has an interest, of course, in bringing you this treat. The company hopes the memory of worms gone by will entice you to buy its software to protect yourself.

But it's still an interesting list, and you may enjoy arguing with it, suggesting additions, even remembering times past -- unless, of course, your computer was hit by one of these worms or viruses.

So here goes. The descriptions are Symantec's.

1. I Love You (2000) -- Who wouldn't open an e-mail with "I Love You" in the subject line? Well, that was the problem. By May 2000, 50 million infections of this worm had been reported. The Pentagon, the CIA, and the British Parliament all had to shut down their e-mail systems in order to purge the threat.

2. Conficker (2009) -- The Conficker worm has created a secure, worldwide infrastructure for cybercrime. The worm allows its creators to remotely install software on infected machines. What will that software do? We don't know. Most likely the worm will be used to create a botnet that will be rented out to criminals who want to send SPAM, steal IDs and direct users to online scams and phishing sites.

3. Melissa (1999) -- Melissa was an exotic dancer, and David L. Smith was obsessed with her and also with writing viruses. The virus he named after Melissa and released to the world on March 26, 1999, kicked off a period of high-profile threats that rocked the Internet between 1999 and 2005.

4. Slammer (2003) -- This fast-moving worm managed to temporarily bring much of the Internet to its knees in January 2003. The threat was so aggressive that it was mistaken by some countries to be an organized attack against them.

5. Nimda (2001) -- A mass-mailing worm that uses multiple methods to spread itself, within 22 minutes, Nimda became the Internet's most widespread worm. The name of the virus came from the reversed spelling of "admin."

Top 10 Computer Worms in Internet History

6. Code Red (2001) -- Web sites affected by the Code Red worm were defaced by the phrase "Hacked By Chinese!" At its peak, the number of infected hosts reached 359,000.

7. Blaster (2003) -- Blaster is a worm that triggered a payload that launched a denial of service attack against, which included the message, "billy gates why do you make this possible? Stop making money and fix your software!!"

8. Sasser (2004) -- This nasty worm spread by exploiting a vulnerable network port, meaning that it could spread without user intervention. Sasser wreaked havoc on everything from The British Coast Guard to Delta Airlines, which had to cancel some flights after its computers became infected.

9. Storm (2007) -- Poor Microsoft, always the popular target. Like Blaster and others before, this worm's payload performed a denial-of-service attack on During Symantec's tests an infected machine was observed sending a burst of almost 1,800 e-mails in a five-minute period.

10. Morris (1988) -- An oldie but a goodie; without Morris the current threat "superstars" wouldn't exist. The Morris worm (or Internet worm) was created with innocent intentions. Robert Morris claims that he wrote the worm in an effort to gauge the size of the Internet. Unfortunately, the worm contained an error that caused it to infect computers multiple times, creating a denial of service.

To round things out, Symantec offers a list of all the top threats, though you don't necessarily need Symantec software to protect yourself. Security experts say no one program will protect you against everything, and some of the best malware protection can be downloaded for free. (Take a look at AVG, Malwarebytes, or Spybot as a few examples.)

So there you are. Feeling nostalgic? Or are you still trying to get the Morris worm off your hard drive?

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