Computer viruses and hackers can wreak unimaginable havoc in the digital realm, but there was once a time in the early years of personal computing when malware was a platform for burgeoning digital artists to display their skills—while stealing your information.
A collection of visually stunning examples of viruses from the ’80s and ’90s compiled by archivist Jason Scott is now available on The Internet Archive, an online library of digital files, on a page Mr. Scott is calling The Malware Museum. According to the BBC, the site has seen over 100,000 viewers since it launched on February 5.
To create the Malware Museum, Mr. Scott culled the collections of Mikko Hermanni Hyppönen, a research officer from the Finnish online security company F-Secure, for viruses that displayed animated messages and graphics when they infected a computer system.
While the files Mr. Scott has uploaded to the archive are no longer dangerous—the harmful code has been stripped from the software—their message and visuals remain intact and available for visitors to download for free as .gif or image files.
Some of the messages are simply colorful patterns, like the undulating rainbow wave that comprises the malware titled LSD. Others, like COFFSHOP, carry with them a political or social message, such as the directive to “LEGALIZE CANNABIS” scrawled in red, white and blue letters accompanied by a giant, green marijuana leaf.
A few of the malware nod to pop culture; Q FRODO proclaims “FRODO LIVES!” with a blinking blue border—a slogan that appeared in graffiti and clothing during the ’60s and ’70s and referenced J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Lord of the Rings.
Mr. Hyppönen revealed to the BBC one of his favorite viruses from the collection—unique for its interactive interface—named Casino, which required victims to play a game to win back their stolen information.
“At the time the advice was, you lose nothing by playing. In the early 1990s very few people had back-ups so you had lost your files anyway,” he said.
Mr. Hyppönen explained that the crippling cyber attacks of today—which have paralyzed global corporations and sought to infiltrate government intelligence agencies—are far removed from the hackers who created these programs.
“Old school happy hackers who used to write viruses for fun are nowhere to be seen,” he said.