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"Beyond a thousand years from now humans are not quite recognizably human, and I have trouble finding characters."
- Larry Niven

Computer Virus  
  A software program that copies itself to other computers.  

Probably the earliest description of a computer virus.

You know as well as I what the cartels are doing these days. It was even tougher then, ICS owned Sapiro and Garner. As long as they were employed there the company could arrange their ‘disappearance’ and few would be the wiser. They lived in a company town that looked the other way when company goons dispensed justice. No, the risk wasn’t worth it. The scope would have to be a lot bigger — and the profits — before they could afford to make the gamble.

“Garner was the better technician but Sapiro knew the way management’s mind worked. Any fool knew computer time was worth money. The corporations would take pains to be sure no one could make away with sizable chunks of it, chunks large enough to perform a respectable calculation. So Sapiro figured he’d do just the reverse of what ICS expected.”

“Oh? I—”

“Here’s what he did. He had to have Garner’s help, of course, in hiding the initial program inside a complicated subroutine, so even a careful search wouldn’t find it. That was Garner’s only contribution, and a good thing, too, because he wasn’t a man who could deal with people. He knew nothing of character, couldn’t tell a thief from a duke. Or so Sapiro thought.”

“Then Sapiro—” I said. The only way to get Nigel to hold on the subject was to threaten to interrupt, a theory which was quickly verified when he raised his voice a decibel and plunged on:

“The program he logged in instructed the computer to dial a seven digit telephone number at random. Now, most phones are operated by people. But quite a few belong to computers and are used to transfer information and programming instrucions to other computers. Whenever a computer picks up the receiver — metaphorically, I mean — there’s a special signal that says it’s a computer, not a human. Another computer can recognize the signal, see.

“Sapiro’s computer just kept dialing at random, hanging up on humans, until it got a fellow computer of the same type as itself. Then it would send a signal that said in effect, ‘Do this job and charge it to the charge number you were using when I called.’ And then it would transmit the same program Sapiro tad programmed into it.”

“So that—” I said.

“Right on. The second computer would turn around and start calling at random intervals, trying to find another machine. Eventually it would.”

From The Scarred Man, by Gregory Benford.
Published by Venture in 1970
Additional resources -

See also the somewhat more famous computer tapeworm from John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider (1975).

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