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Antivirus software was originally designed as a means to detect and remove viruses from computers. As time passed, the internet evolved and a wide array of technologies were invented. However, this boom did come with a downside: the creation of other, more advanced types of malicious software or malware.
Thus, the modern antivirus was born— software that could protect the user from not only computer viruses, but also different kinds of malware such as spyware, ransomware, adware, trojans, and ransom hijackers.
You likely have some form of antivirus installed on some, if not all, of your devices. But do you know how the software came to be? This article will provide a brief history of the antivirus.
The beginnings of antivirus software date back to 1971, when the first computer virus known as the Creeper infected and spread to PDP-10 mainframe computers manufactured by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC).
In order to combat the Creeper, American computer programmer Ray Tomlinson developed the Reaper. It was a program designed to delete the virus. It should be noted, though, that the Reaper was not an actual antivirus. Instead, it was also a virus, albeit with a more benevolent purpose—to remove the Creeper from infected computers.
The first true antivirus software
The late ‘80s were to be landmark years that set up the foundations of the entire antivirus software industry.
It was in 1987 that German computer security expert Bernd Robert Fix came up with a program to get rid of Vienna, a virus that infected .com files on DOS-based systems. The exact origins of the first antivirus are disputed, but this was the first documented removal of a computer virus by an actual antivirus program.
Around the same time, German company G Data Software AG released the first antivirus software designed to be used on Atari ST computers. The company followed this up with the Ultimate Virus Killer (UVK) 2000. Cybersecurity conglomerate McAfee, Inc. was also founded in 1987, and it would release the first version of VirusScan before the year’s end. Peter Paško, Miroslav Trnka, and Rudolf Hrubý also created the first NOD32 Antivirus in 1987.
By the end of 1987, two more antivirus tools would be released—FlushShot Plus by Ross Greenberg and Anti4us by Erwin Lanting. Although these tools are no longer in existence, they are considered to be the first heuristic antivirus softwares. In computing lingo, heuristic means being able to solve problems and find solutions quicker than classic or standard methods.
The rise of the antivirus software industry
The growth of the antivirus industry continued in 1988 and well into the ‘90s. German cybersecurity company Avira was founded in 1986, but it wasn’t until two years later that it would launch its first version of AntiVir (called Luke Filewalker back then). Czech cybersecurity firm Avast would also be founded, and it would release the first version of the Avast Antivirus application the same year. The company would also create a Virtual Private Network (VPN) called Avast SecureLine VPN.
Dr. Vesselin Bontchev, a doctor in computer science from Bulgaria, released a free antivirus program also in 1988. Around Autumn, Alan Solomon would establish S&S International, and he would create Dr. Solomon’s Anti-Virus Toolkit (only launched commercially in 1991 to go up against rival companies Symantec and McAfee).
By the ‘90s, the industry was growing at a rapid pace. In 1990, IT security specialist Panda Security was founded in Spain. the Computer Antivirus Research Organization (CARO) was formed in the same year with the goal of researching and studying malware. Some of the organization’s members include Alan Solomon, Vesselin Bontchev, and Eugene Kaspersky (of Kaspersky Lab).
Symantec—known for its Norton line of computer security products—released the first ever Norton AntiVirus in 1991. Dutch cybersecurity company AVG Technologies was founded the same year, and its first AVG AntiVirus product came out the year after. ESET, a company based in Slovakia, was also established in 1992 by the authors of the original NOD32 Antivirus
The mid to late ‘90s also saw the birth of several cybersecurity companies. Bitdefender was founded in Romania in 1996, and Kaspersky Lab was started in 1997 by Eugene and Natalya Kaspersky (his wife at the time). In 1998, only Kaspersky Anti-Virus had the capability to eliminate CIH (aka Chernobyl or Spacefiller), a virus released in Taiwan by a student in the country’s Tatung University.
Antivirus software in the new millennium
The 2000s was a time of even more advancements for the antivirus industry. In 2005, Finland-based company F-Secure developed an anti-rootkit tool called BlackLight. They were the first cybersecurity firm to do so.
In 2008, McAfee unveiled Artemis, a cloud-based anti-malware function that was added to the year’s edition of McAfee VirusScan. AVG followed suit in 2011 by creating a similar system they named Protective Cloud Technology.
All the innovations from the ‘80s until today are undoubtedly what made cybersecurity the powerhouse industry it is today. Cybersecurity is a big business that makes billions of dollars in revenue each year, and its growth shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
Avast Software, the current market leader with a share of 19.11%, made $714 million in revenue in 2016. ESET is second in market share with 14.49% and has an estimated revenue of around $456 million each year. Avast is third with 9.57% share, and the company earned $1.75 billion in revenue in 2015.
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