Museums catering to perverse, macabre, or just plain bizarre curiosities are nothing new: there’s Sicily’s "human library," Pennsylvania’s Mutter Museum of medical oddities, and Missouri’s Glore psychiatric museum. Yet just when it seems we’ve run out of horrifying things to bottle and put on display, the internet’s favorite digital culture repository, Archive.org, had to go open an online malware museum on Friday.
The Internet Archive’s malware museum is a collection of 78 malware examples (mostly viruses) from the 80s and 90s, decades when malware infections were often accompanied with 8-bit animation sequences.
Curated by Mikko Hermanni Hyppönen, the chief resource officer at the Finnish security company F-secure, the online museum allows visitors to run emulations of the virus on the site or download a modified version of the malware to their computer.
It probably goes without saying that the malware downloaded from the museum doesn’t come with the destructive routines that actually made the virus so awful—you’re still technically downloading the actual virus, just without the part of the code that will ruin your day (to say nothing of your computer). Although you’re only getting a sandboxed emulation of the virus, for those of you who remember the days of Microsoft’s Disk Operating System (MS-DOS), just seeing the malware animation might be enough to trigger some painful memories. (The masochistic technophiles among you can watch real versions of the viruses in action here.)
The Internet Archive’s collection represents just a small fraction of the staggering variety of DOS malware wreaking havoc on early PCs. The first computer virus targeting PCs (known as Brain) was recognized in 1986. By the year 2000, security software company Sophos estimated that at least 50,000 viruses had been in circulation at some point in the intervening years.
The collection may be of modest size, but it still offers an amusing foray into a time when malware's bad tidings were delivered in a creative way.