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If Computer Viruses Were Real Creatures, This Is What They’d Look Like

A Brooklyn artist turned 24 years of malware, from Brain.a to Stuxnet, into colorful, cyberpunky, alien-like creatures.

Computer malware has become a routine part of life on the internet. Every day, according to a recent estimate, around one million new pieces of malicious software get unleashed online. But once upon a time, there was no malware.

In 1986, that changed with the spread of what's deemed to be the first-ever personal computer virus, known as Brain.a, an innocuous piece of malware that spread through floppy disks and strangely came with a return address—that of its two creators. Since then, the world has seen millions of different viruses, trojans, and other kinds of malware. Some have come and go, others have made history.

Read more: The MySpace Worm that Changed the Internet Forever

Mikko Hypponen, a well-known malware hunter who works at F-Secure, a security firm, recapped that history during a famous talk at the hacker's conference Def Con in 2011. That talk inspired Ace Volkov, a Brooklyn-based artist, to try to visualize something that by definition, isn't very visual at all.

When Volkov stumbled upon that talk last year, he "felt energized by sheer obscurity and uniqueness of these names," which, after all, are really just "lines of code," as Volkov told Motherboard.

After an initial attempt that turned these malware names into "boring, stereotypical sci-fi looking characters," that "looked too normal, too serious, sterile," as he put it, Volkov changed his approach. So, he said, he looked at each of them "as a person with their own backstory."

The results are imaginative, visually compelling, alien-like cyberpunky characters that populate Volkov's brief visual history of computer viruses. Here it is below.

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