Elk Cloner


Elk Cloner is recognized as one of the first computer viruses that spread “in the wild”, or outside of a computer lab. It was created in 1982 by a 15-year-old high school student, Richard Skrenta, and targeted Apple II systems. The virus would infect the computer’s boot sector, spreading via floppy disk, and display a playful poem after the 50th boot of the system.


The phonetics of the keyword ‘Elk Cloner’ are ‘ɛlk kloʊnər’.

Key Takeaways

<ol> <li>Elk Cloner is considered as one of the first computer viruses to appear in the wild. Developed by a 15-year-old high school student in 1982, it spread onto Apple II computers through infected floppy disks.</li> <li>Unlike most modern-day malware, Elk Cloner wasn’t created with malicious intent. It was more of a prank or experiment by its creator, Richard Skrenta. The virus displayed a poem on infected computers, starting with the line “Elk Cloner: The program with a personality”.</li> <li>Elk Cloner is an important part of the history of computer viruses. It was a precursor to the numerous forms of malicious software that developed later and highlighted the potential for programs to spread between systems via portable media.</li></ol>


Elk Cloner is significant in the realm of technology because it represents the first known computer virus to spread in the wild, outside of a lab setting. Created in 1982 by a 15-year-old high school student named Richard Skrenta, Elk Cloner was designed to infect Apple II computers via floppy disk. The program was initially a prank, as it only displayed a poem on the screen after the 50th boot, but it inadvertently set a precedent for harmful malware and viruses that followed. Its creation signified a pivotal moment in the history of computer science, illustrating the need for cybersecurity measures and indicating the potential risks digital technology could face.


Elk Cloner, created in 1982, is known to be one of the earliest self-replicating programs, or what is more commonly known nowadays as a computer virus. The purpose of this technology was not initially malicious; it was written primarily as a prank by a high school student, Richard Skrenta, to annoy his friends. It was designed to infect the Apple II operating system via floppy disks. When an infected disk was booted, the virus would load into the computer’s memory and then propagate to any subsequent disks that were inserted into the same machine. In terms of its use, though it wasn’t created to cause damage, Elk Cloner did have the potential to disrupt productivity. Once the 50th “boot” or start-up from the infected disk occurred, the virus would cause a poem written by Skrenta to display on the screen. This not only startled the user, but it could also affect work flow as one would need to restart their machine to resume normal operations. Despite its mainly prank-related intentions, Elk Cloner served as an early demonstration of how a simple piece of code could easily infect a system, causing unwanted disruptions and raising awareness about the potential for more malicious forms of software in the future.


Elk Cloner is regarded as one of the first computer virus targeted at personal computers, more specifically, for Apple II systems. Here are three real-world examples related to Elk Cloner:1. Elk Cloner in Apple II Systems: Developed by a 15-year-old high school student named Richard Skrenta in 1982, Elk Cloner was initially intended as a prank. It was spread through the sharing of floppy disks among Apple II users. When the infected disk was booted, the virus would load into memory and subsequently infect any other disks that were inserted into the system.2. Elk Cloner’s Influence on Software Development: Elk Cloner’s proliferation showed software developers and antivirus companies the potential for malicious software. It paved the way for a greater focus on computer security in the development of future computing systems and softwares. The creators of these systems aimed to develop more secure infrastructures in light of Elk Cloner and similar viruses of the time.3. Education about Computer Viruses: Elk Cloner has often been used as a case study in computer science and cybersecurity classes to illustrate the origins and nature of computer viruses. Its simplicity, coupled with its historical significance, provides a clear-cut example of how viruses work, making it a valuable teaching tool.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

Q: What is Elk Cloner?A: Elk Cloner is thought to be one of the first-ever computer viruses that spread to other computers. It was designed to infect Apple II personal computers in 1981.Q: Who created the Elk Cloner?A: Elk Cloner was created by Rich Skrenta, a 15-year-old high school student in the United States, who initially designed it as a practical joke.Q: How did Elk Cloner spread?A: Elk Cloner was spread via floppy disk. When an infected diskette was loaded into the computer, the virus would be loaded into the machine’s memory. Q: What did Elk Cloner actually do?A: Elk Cloner would lie dormant until the 50th time the computer was booted from the diskette. Then it would display a humorous poem on every 50th boot afterward. The virus didn’t cause any harm but it was annoying and disrupted productivity.Q: How was Elk Cloner removed?A: There was no simple method to remove Elk Cloner during its first release. The only known method was to overwrite the boot sector of the infected disk with a clean one. Q: Why is Elk Cloner significant in the history of technology?A: The significance of Elk Cloner lies in the fact that it was one of the first instances of a self-replicating virus in the personal computer environment. This set a precedent for future viruses and malware. Q: Can Elk Cloner still affect modern computers?A: No, Elk Cloner is not able to infect modern computers. It was specifically designed to infect Apple II systems. Today’s operating systems and hardware are much different than those from the early 1980s. Q: What can we learn from the creation and spread of Elk Cloner?A: Elk Cloner taught us about the susceptibility of computer systems to viruses and highlighted the importance of striving for robust cybersecurity measures and virus-scanning technologies.

Related Finance Terms

  • Virus
  • Computer Security
  • Self-replicating Code
  • Boot Sector
  • Apple II System

Sources for More Information


About The Authors

The DevX Technology Glossary is reviewed by technology experts and writers from our community. Terms and definitions continue to go under updates to stay relevant and up-to-date. These experts help us maintain the almost 10,000+ technology terms on DevX. Our reviewers have a strong technical background in software development, engineering, and startup businesses. They are experts with real-world experience working in the tech industry and academia.

See our full expert review panel.

These experts include:


About Our Editorial Process

At DevX, we’re dedicated to tech entrepreneurship. Our team closely follows industry shifts, new products, AI breakthroughs, technology trends, and funding announcements. Articles undergo thorough editing to ensure accuracy and clarity, reflecting DevX’s style and supporting entrepreneurs in the tech sphere.

See our full editorial policy.

More Technology Terms

Technology Glossary

Table of Contents