How Two Pakistani Brothers Created the World’s First PC Virus

The 1980s Brain virus made its creators Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi infamous, and made John McAfee a billionaire.

Atul Bhattarai

August 24, 2021

How Two Pakistani Brothers Created the World’s First PC Virus
Amjad Farooq Alvi and Basit Farooq Alvi (YouTube/F-Secure)

In May 1988, Froma Joselow, a reporter at the Providence Journal-Bulletin, was attempting to print out an article from a floppy disk when a disk error flashed on her computer screen. Panicking at possibly losing months of work, Joselow took the disk to the newspaper’s computer center. There, experts noticed something odd: the floppy’s disk label had changed: it now read “(c) Brain.” They also detected a 3002-byte program, about 40 typed pages’ worth, inside the disk’s boot sector, with a peculiar copyright message inside:

Welcome to the Dungeon

© 1986 Basit & Amjads (pvt). BRAIN COMPUTER SERVICES 730 NIZAM

BLOCK ALLAMA IQBAL TOWN LAHORE-PAKISTAN PHONE: 430791,443248,280530.

Beware of this virus.... Contact us for vaccination....

After several days of examining the rogue program — which would come to be known as the Pakistani Brain, the Pakistani Flu, and more simply the Pakistani virus — Peter Scheidler, the Journal-Bulletin’s systems engineer, concluded that it wasn’t responsible for Joselow’s data loss. Brain was not designed to destroy, nor was it flashy, spraying out “digital graffiti,” namely jokes or other text that would pop up on the screen. Instead, the world’s first PC virus was “devoted to reproducing itself,” Scheidler said

Between 1986 and 1989, the Brain virus would go on to infect at least 100,000 disks in the U.S., and proliferate from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia. Brain was also the first, and perhaps only, virus to contain the genuine names and contact information of its creators, making Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi infamous for a generation of Pakistanis and embedding them permanently in the country’s modern folklore.