The curious story of the world’s first ransomware, its inventor, and the victim who managed to evade it

Eddy Willems, a worker for an insurance company in Belgium, is one of the first victims of ransomware in the history of computing. In 1989 his boss asked him to check what was on a diskette he had received from WHO. A medical investigation on AIDS was expected, he came across a hack asking him for $ 189.

When Eddy Williems inserted the floppy disk into his computer, he did not load the medical research from a recent conference, but rather what is known as the first ransomware of the world. Three decades ago ransomware was much simpler and more naive than it is today.

189 dollars to Panama

This is what the ransomware actor was asking for as a ransom from the victims: $ 189 to send to an address in Panama. Eddy Willems came across this message while loading the floppy disk into his computer, which had been locked. However, he says he did not pay the ransom or lose the data because reversing the situation was relatively easy.

Aids Trojan

But Eddy Willems was not the only victim. About 20,000 floppy disks had been shipped by mail (mail!) throughout the world. All of them went with what later became known as AIDS Trojan. The incident caused quite a bit of havoc for being a total novelty, even though avoiding it was relatively easy.

Law enforcement began tracking where that attack was coming from to determine who was behind it. Finally they even got to an evolutionary biologist at Harvard. His name was Joseph Popp and he was one of those involved in AIDS research at the time. To this day it is still unknown why he decided to do that.

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He was arrested and charged with multiple charges, likewise, is credited with being the inventor of ransomware. Joseph Popp told authorities that he made the ransomware for the purpose of donating money for AIDS research. True or not, it is something we will never know, he passed away in 2007.

Today ransomware attacks are much worse. They are sent over the Internet and in bulk. Additionally, ransoms are often requested in cryptocurrencies, making it much more difficult to track down attackers. And, of course, real hackers and security experts are behind it, not biologists attacking alone.

Via | Vice
More information | Virus Bulletin


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