The strange history of ransomware

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DWS Staff
DWS Staff
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Joined: Sun Mar 22, 2015 4:29 pm

Fri May 26, 2017 5:12 am


WannaCry, the latest extortionate malware to seize hard drives from Beijing to Boise, may seem like the product of the Mr. Robot writer’s room. But as viruses go, ransomware is actually an antique.

The first ransomware virus was unleashed in 1989 — pre-dating the Internet and email as we know it — and distributed on floppy disk by the post office.

The culprit? Joseph L. Popp, an American evolutionary biologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard. The 20,000 disks Popp sent out to health researchers around the world that year masqueraded as a survey designed to test one’s risk of contracting AIDS. But after a fixed number of reboots, the virus locked the computer. Users were instructed to turn on their printers, from which a ransom note soon emerged, demanding a $189 “licensing fee” in exchange for a decryption key.

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