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Famous computer viruses: A historical look at notable cyberthreats

Three young adults looking at a computer monitor together, reading an article about the most famous computer viruses.

Since the earliest days of the internet, computer viruses have been a persistent threat to our digital lives. In this article, we'll dive into the ten most famous computer viruses of all time, exploring their methods and the devastation left in their wake. And get ironclad online protection to help defend against the viruses and other malicious software that continue to wreak havoc today.

Computer viruses are malicious pieces of software that can cause substantial damage, steal sensitive information, and disrupt the smooth functioning of our devices. Over the years, several viruses have gained notoriety for their destructive capabilities, leaving a lasting impact on the world of cybersecurity. To learn more about what viruses are and how they spread, check out our extensive guide to computer viruses.

Journeying through the annals of cybersecurity highlights the relentless ingenuity of cyberthreats. The digital landscape is a stark reminder that, in today's interconnected world, anyone can become a victim. As we explore the most infamous computer viruses in history, remember how important it is to practice good digital hygiene, stay on top of popular scamming techniques, and use robust antivirus software like Norton AntiVirus Plus.

What is the most famous computer virus?

The title of the most famous computer virus arguably goes to the infamous ILOVEYOU virus. Released in the year 2000, it wreaked havoc on the digital landscape and set new precedents for the damage caused by cyberattacks.

The ILOVEYOU virus was a computer worm that got its name by spreading through email attachments that appeared with the seemingly innocent subject line “I love you.” Curiosity got the better of many users, who unwittingly unleashed this malicious program when they opened the attachment. The ILOVEYOU virus spread rapidly, overwriting files and causing billions of dollars of damage worldwide.

The 10 most famous computer viruses

Let's take a closer look at the ten most famous computer viruses in the history of cybersecurity. In a world where cyberthreats continue to evolve and grow in sophistication, safeguarding your digital world has never been more crucial. As technology advances, so do the strategies of malicious actors seeking to compromise your privacy and security:


When you explore the history of computer viruses, the ILOVEYOU worm stands out for the extensive damage malware can cause. Spreading through email attachments, this insidious program masqueraded as a love letter, deceiving unsuspecting users into activating it. Upon execution, the virus unleashed its destructive payload, destroying personal files and causing massive financial damage. This infamous virus strain stands as a testament to the power and capacity for chaos harbored by computer viruses.

2. CryptoLocker

A harbinger of modern ransomware, CryptoLocker emerged in September 2013 as a chilling example of cyber extortion. It discreetly penetrated systems via deceptive email attachments, encrypting crucial files and effectively holding them hostage. The architects of CryptoLocker coerced hundreds of thousands of victims into paying ransoms to retrieve the decryption key. This pivotal event highlighted the significant threat and lucrative nature of ransomware attacks, underscoring the critical importance of robust cybersecurity defenses.

3. MyDoom

2004 saw the emergence of MyDoom, a notorious and sinister malware strain that spread rapidly, targeting technology companies like Google and Yahoo with Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and turning infected computers into tools for spreading spam. Incredibly, MyDoom is still active today, and it has inflicted an estimated $38 billion in damage, marking it as one of the most destructive computer viruses ever.

4. Storm Worm

In 2006, the cyberthreat landscape witnessed the emergence of Storm Worm, a devastating virus that distinguished itself with an ominously deceptive tactic. Using the subject line "230 dead as storm batters Europe," the virus proved to be irresistible bait for curious minds.

Simply clicking a link in the email triggered the virus, which then took over computers, turning them into bots that furthered the virus's spread and generated massive amounts of spam. Storm Worm, also called the Storm Bot, infected millions of emails, causing widespread digital disruption.

5. Sasser & Netsky

A tale of youth and disruption unfolded with Sasser and Netsky, two distinct yet interconnected worms masterminded by a 17-year-old German student named Sven Jaschan. Sasser's modus operandi revolved around scanning random IP addresses, while Netsky used email channels to propagate. This dual menace caused billions of dollars of damage. Jaschan's motivations behind these viruses remain unclear but may have been driven by a desire to outpace even the notorious MyDoom virus.

6. Anna Kournikova virus

The Anna Kournikova virus, named after the famous tennis player, exploited her popularity to trick unwitting users. The seemingly harmless subject line, “Here you have, ;0)” enticed recipients to open an attached infected file. Created as a prank by 20-year-old Dutch individual Jan De Wit, this virus illustrated computer virus’s tantalizing potential for mischief. While the damage was limited to around $166,000, the Anna Kournikova virus remains a notable example of digital disruption.

7. Slammer

Just 15 minutes after infecting its first victim, the Slammer virus cast a shadow of disruption over a significant fraction of the internet. Unlike typical malware, Slammer targeted servers instead of individual computers, especially servers using Microsoft's SQL Server 2000. Its relentless assault resulted in debilitating outages of critical infrastructure like 911 services and the Bank of America's ATM system. Slammer's rampage was estimated to cost a staggering $1 billion in damage, solidifying its notorious position in the annals of digital threats.

8. Stuxnet

Stuxnet, a state-sponsored cyberweapon, represents a high level of sophistication and geopolitical significance. Designed to destabilize Iran’s nuclear program, Stuxnet exploited vulnerabilities via USB thumb drives to target software controlling nuclear facilities. T Its impact was nothing short of astounding, forcing Iran's centrifuges to self-destruct and causing substantial setbacks to their nuclear ambitions.

9. Code Red

In the summer of 2001, the Code Red computer worm emerged, exploiting a vulnerability in servers using Microsoft IIS web server software to spread at an astonishing rate. Infected websites were defaced with the message "Hacked by Chinese!" Code Red's swift spread led to a dramatic surge in internet traffic, causing widespread disruptions to websites. The economic damage caused by Code Red is estimated to have reached billions of dollars.

10. Conficker

Conficker came on the scene in 2008, exploiting Windows system vulnerabilities, spreading quickly across networks, and ultimately infecting millions of computers worldwide. Extremely difficult to remove due to its resilience and self-updating capabilities, Conficker had a significant impact on corporate, government, and personal networks, and it stands as a harrowing example of the persistent and evolving threat of modern computer viruses.

What is the strongest virus?

Determining the “strongest” virus is subjective and depends on factors like damage extent, reach, velocity of spread, and sophistication. Stuxnet is particularly notable for its potency, origin, and targeted objectives. Created by U.S. government engineers, Stuxnet crippled Iran's nuclear program, highlighting cyberwarfare's potential for global impact.

Protect your digital world with Norton AntiVirus Plus

The history of computer viruses is a testament to the ongoing battle between hackers and cybersecurity experts. While the virus examples above enjoy well-deserved notoriety, the cyberthreats landscape continues to evolve, which makes vigilance and proactive defense more important than ever. Sophisticated threats, including new types of ransomware and spyware, emerge all the time, targeting individuals, organizations, governments, and critical infrastructure.

Staying ahead of these shifting dangers is essential. Find tips on how to choose which antivirus software suits your needs. And learn about the ways in which an antivirus is necessary for you.

Norton AntiVirus Plus provides real-time threat intelligence to help protect against known, new, and emerging threats, and ensure your device stays up to date to guard against viruses and other forms of malware. As technology continues to advance, the need for reliable cybersecurity tools is paramount.

Emma McGowan
  • Emma McGowan
Emma McGowan is a privacy advocate & managing editor at Gen, formerly a freelance writer for outlets like Buzzfeed & Mashable. She enjoys reading, sewing, & her cats Dwight & Poe.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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