The Creeper: The World’s First Computer Virus

What is the Creeper and why should you care
The first virus ever created was called “Creeper” and displayed the message “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!”.


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Have you ever wondered how computer viruses started? You might be surprised to learn that the first one was not created by a hacker, but by a researcher who wanted to test a new technology. Here is the story of the Creeper, the world’s first computer virus.

What is a computer virus?

A computer virus is a piece of software that can copy itself and infect other computers without the user’s permission. It can cause damage, steal data, or display unwanted messages. The term “virus” comes from the analogy with biological viruses, which can infect living cells and replicate.

How did the Creeper come to life?

The Creeper was created in 1971 by Bob Thomas, a computer programmer at BBN Technologies. BBN was a pioneer in developing packet switching networks, such as ARPANET, the precursor to the internet. ARPANET allowed computers to communicate over long distances without dedicated phone lines.

Thomas wanted to experiment with how a program could move from one computer to another using ARPANET. He wrote a simple program that could copy itself to a remote system and then delete itself from the previous one. He named it Creeper, after a character from the cartoon show “Scooby-Doo”.

The Creeper had no malicious intent. It only displayed a message on the infected computer’s screen: “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!” It was not designed to harm or steal anything. It was just a proof of concept that self-replicating programs were possible.

How did people react to the Creeper?

The Creeper was not widely known at the time. Only a few computer scientists who used ARPANET noticed it. Some of them were amused by it, others were annoyed by it. One of them was Ray Tomlinson, another BBN programmer who is credited with inventing email.

Tomlinson decided to write a program that could catch and remove the Creeper from infected computers. He called it Reaper, after another character from “Scooby-Doo”. Reaper was also a self-replicating program, but it searched for and deleted any traces of the Creeper.

The Creeper and the Reaper were soon forgotten by most people. They did not cause any major damage or disruption. They were just experiments that showed what could be done with networked computers.

Why is the Creeper important?

The Creeper was the first computer virus, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Since then, many other viruses have been created for various purposes: some for fun, some for fame, some for profit, some for sabotage. Some of them have caused serious problems and losses for individuals, businesses, and governments.

The Creeper also inspired other researchers to explore the potential of self-replicating programs. Some of them developed useful applications, such as distributed computing and artificial life. Others developed malicious ones, such as worms and ransomware.

The Creeper showed us that computer viruses are possible and inevitable. It also showed us that we need to be prepared and vigilant to protect ourselves from them.