80s and 90s computer nostalgia is usually about floppy disks and waggling joysticks, but one virtual “museum” is celebrating a less savory aspect of the era: early MS-DOS malware.
The collection is part of the Internet Archive, which aims to preserve web pages and other computer media for posterity. Archivist Jason Scott has selected 79 examples of programs which infected machines, having first cleaned them to remove any risk.
As with many items in the archive, visitors can either view them in action through an emulator in the browser or download them to run on a computer. While visitors don’t experience the relevant damage, such as a loss of files, the emulation does display the often creative messages displayed by the malware.
As this was a time when the main motivation behind viruses was troublemaking, virus creators didn’t have the desire to keep the infection secret in the same way as many financially-motivated malware creators do today. Instead they often wanted to announce their “achievement” in spectacular sprite-based fashion, sometimes with audio as well.
Examples include displaying an Italian flag; presenting a message in Star Wars scrolling titles fashion; having an animated elderly man walk across the screen; and the somewhat politically incorrect choice of simply displaying “AIDS” in gigantic flashing letters. Several others involved the screen appearing to shake, get eaten by a centipede, or go up in (extremely crude) flames.
The most creative is one which appears to have made a copy of files, overwritten the originals, then offered to restore them if the victim won a card game. If the game was honestly random as presented, the player had around an 18 percent chance of “winning”.