How a piracy protection software turned into a first computer virus

A story of the "BRAIN" first ever computer virus

A Floppy Disk Carrying the BRAIN Computer virus's Programming Codes
Do you know? ‘BRAIN’ is the first ever computer virus of the world. It was developed in Jan 1986 by two Pakistani brothers Basit Farooq Alvi and Amjad Farooq Alvi in Lahore, Pakistan. And it was considered to be the first ever computer virus for MS-DOS. This wasn’t just any old flu—it was the world’s first personal computer virus. Known as Brain, the bug destroyed memory, slowed the hard drive, and had a short copyright message in the boot sector, introducing the world to two soon-to-be hacker celebrities.

Intentions of Coders behind BRAIN At that time, coders Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi were just 17 and 24, respectively, running a computer store in Lahore, Pakistan. When they discovered that customers were circulating illegal copies of software they’d written, the brothers decided to retaliate. The brain was their attempt to scare pirates straight, but, as the creators tell it, the virus was never intended to be malicious. In a 2011 interview with F-Secure, a Finnish antivirus company, the brothers called the bug a “friendly virus,” one that “was not made to destroy any data.” Why else would they have stamped the virus code with their names, their phone numbers, and the address of their shop?

“The idea was that only if the program was illegally copied would the virus load,” Amjad said in a Pakistani TV interview a few years ago. The Alvis also had an ingenious method for keeping track of how far the virus had spread. “We had a ‘counter’ in the program, which could keep track of all copies made and when they were made.”

After Effects of ‘Brain’ – Brain affects the IBM PC computer by replacing the boot sector of a floppy disk with a copy of the virus.The real boot sector is moved to another sector and marked as bad. Infected disks usually have five kilobytes of bad sectors. The disk label is changed to ©Brain, and the following text can be seen in infected boot sectors:

“Welcome to the Dungeon (c) 1986 Basie & Amends (Pvt) Ltd VIRUS_SHOE RECORD V9.0 Dedicated to the dynamic memories of millions of viruses who are no longer with us today – Thank GOODNESS!! BEWARE OF THE er..VIRUS: this program is catching program follows after these messages….$#@%[email protected]!!”

How was BRAIN shared? – Floppy disks were used those days to share the data. BRAIN as a retaliating feature attached with non-copyrighted software to keep the software prevented from piracy. BRAIN being a virus and attacks only in one condition when someone tries to pirate the software or files using any system in the world.

The function of the ‘BRAIN’ Virus – “Brain virus” was not destructive and used to test the replication attributes of DOS. Brain had the function to replicate itself within the disks inserted inside a brain hit the computer. It infects the boot sector of storage media formatted with the DOS File Allocation Table (FAT) file system.

Interesting Fact – The interesting fact remains that the location of the “Brain Pvt Limited” is exactly the same where the virus was first developed. It is quite surprising that these two brothers were so brave that they even mentioned the original address on the computer virus. The following lines were found written as a part of the entire virus structure.

Shortly after the University of Delaware outbreak, Brain began popping up at other universities, and then at newspapers. The New York Times reported that a “rogue co computer program” had hit the Providence Journal-Bulletin, though the “damage was limited to one reporter losing several months of work contained on a floppy disk.”

While there was never any legal action, the media response was explosive. Basit and Amjad began receiving calls from all over the world. They were as surprised as anyone that their little experiment had traveled so far. After all, unlike today’s computer viruses, which spread at lightning speed, Brain had to transmit itself the old-fashioned way—through human carriers toting around 5.25-inch floppy discs.

But the binary genie was out of the bottle. Today, there are more than a million viruses vying to infect your computer; it’s estimated that half of all PCs are or have been infected. Consumers shell out more than $4 billion per year for software to fight these digital dragons.

As for the brothers, the virus hasn’t been bad for business. Their company, Brain Net, is now the largest Internet service provider in Pakistan. While they maintain that they never meant to hurt anyone, they have nevertheless embraced Brain as a device that exposed the global nature of piracy. “The virus could not have spread unless people were copying the software illegally,” Amjad said during his Pakistani TV interview.

The brothers, who told reporters that they stopped selling contaminated software sometime in 1987, are still based at the same address in Lahore—the one stamped into Brain’s code.
Current Status of the Developer’s of BRAIN – Both the genius brothers are entrepreneurs and are currently operating a company named “Brain Pvt Limited” that provides ISP, IPTV, Telephony and various other services to the potential customers.
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