Everyone hates malware. We are all familiar with it and what it does to our computers. Malware is an insidious menace that seeks to steal your personal information and ransom your data. In the early days of personal computing, viruses were less of a malicious threat and more of an annoying joke. Now you can relive the “glory” days of mostly harmless computer viruses by visiting the Malware Museum hosted at the Internet Archive.
The collection consists of a few dozen examples of early malware curated by computer security expert and researcher Mikko Hyppönen. All the examples of antique malware in the museum are from the 80s and 90s, and will run entirely in your browser using a DOSBox emulator. That keeps you nice and safe, but the original files have also been cleansed of dangerous code. You can download the modified files if you want to play around with them on your own system.
Spending just a few minutes in the Malware Museum will show you how different things used to be. Many of the viruses hosted are hardly malware — they’re more or less neutral. Modern malware is usually designed with a financial incentive in mind, so limiting detection is an important aspect of the payload. If the user doesn’t know the virus is there, they won’t know to get rid of it. These classic viruses were all about making sure the user knew they had been hacked. It was about the prestige of making something clever and interesting.
There are, however, genuinely malicious pieces of software from this era that will be much more familiar to modern computer users. There’s the Casino virus, which existed solely to ruin people’s days. When it was loaded onto a system, it would delete the file allocation table (FAT) on the disk, thus making important files inaccessible. However, it offered victims a possible recourse by winning a slot machine game. You have five tries to hit the jackpot, and winners will have the FAT restored from RAM.
The Malware Museum has already attracted more than 100,000 visitors since opening last week.