Computer Viruses of the 80s: Who Was the Dark Avenger?

By the end of the 1980s, Bulgaria was a hotbed of viruses and hackers. The country was going through turmoil, and as a result, highly educated young people were employed and very bored. At the same time, personal computers were becoming more and more popular in the Eastern Bloc. And this is how the Dark Avenger was born.

The beginning of the Dark Avenger

Almost every origin story begins with a challenge. In the case of the notorious Dark Avenger, it all started with a news article. Published in January of 1989, a piece of writing named The Truth About Computer Viruses agitated the local programming scene. Vesselin Bontchev, the author of the text, questioned the quality of computer viruses, saying they are easy to detect. Funnily, Bontchev himself had never encountered a computer virus before writing his article.

Bulgarian programmers were now working hard on writing new code and making innovative viruses. But one person stood out—the mysterious Dark Avenger. His first attempt at making a virus resulted in Eddie, a destructive piece of code that lay dormant for days after the infection of a single machine.

Eddie would then start slowly erasing files waiting for its 16th launch. Then, a computer user would find
the text “Eddie lives… somewhere in time” on a random part of the disk. The name of the virus and the text will be familiar to every heavy metal fan because the Dark Avenger borrowed it from Iron Maiden.

Furthermore, the nickname Dark Avenger was from a Manowar song, which suggests that heavy metal was his favorite genre of music. It was apparent that the Dark Avenger was proud of his Eddie virus since he signed the code with his city of origin—Sofia, Bulgaria.

In the fall of 1990, the Dark Avenger’s next virus made a spectacular appearance in the House of Commons library in London. The malicious code was spreading fast through the system, erasing and corrupting files, so the library staff called a cybersecurity expert who determined they were dealing with a virus called Nomenklatura.

Back then, antivirus software wasn’t as common as today, and librarians had no options to check file for viruses. Nomenklatura was incredibly damaging to the system, deleting everything in its path. In the end, the system couldn’t even load.

Somewhat of an online celebrity

At the beginning of the 1990s, anyone remotely interested in computers knew about the Dark Avenger. He even joined several hacking forums and communicated with other enthusiasts. One of them was Sarah Gordon, who made her way to those same forums after purchasing a second-hand computer infected with a virus.

Gordon became a well-known computer security researcher. She tried to talk to the Dark Avenger several times unsuccessfully. But he did create a virus called Dedicated, which was made for Gordon. It was an incredible piece of code capable of tricking the latest antivirus software, which was unheard of at the time.

Now fully invested in learning more about the Dark Avenger, Gordon managed to start a conversation with him. Gordon had a sneak peek into the mind of the most infamous hacker of the early 90s and learned he did feel remorseful about what he was doing.

The Dark Avenger openly said he liked to be famous and felt happy when his viruses reached faraway countries. Most of the residents of Bulgaria couldn’t travel freely around the world back then, so the Dark Avenger sent his code to do the globe-trotting for him. And his viruses did travel far! They were highly infectious and reached East Asia, Russia (the former USSR), and the States.

Furthermore, the Dark Avenger talked about his grudge against Bontchev and his misleading article that essentially created the hacking boom in Bulgaria. Gordon and the Dark Avenger talked for months but ended the correspondence when she got engaged. The Dark Avenger remained an enigma because his identity was never uncovered. However, his legacy still lives today.
Importance of cybersecurity

Today, we are dealing with far more sophisticated cyber threats than viruses written by the Dark Avenger. New malware is emerging daily, and antivirus software developers are doing their best to keep up the pace. But we need to do our part of the job, too.

Remember to keep your antivirus software up to date. If you are forgetful, enabling automatic updates is a lifesaver. Antivirus software will regularly check file for viruses and eliminate threats from your device. These apps run in the background, so you won’t even register when they perform the check.

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