A pixelated screen of a rainbow.

An image from an old computer virus | The Malware Museum

When computers first became an important fixture of the average household, they held a lot of promise and a lot of new innovations. Of course, they also had some vulnerabilities, and people who were good with computers took advantage of those vulnerabilities by creating computer viruses. But the viruses released in the 1980s and 90s could also be works of art, or so believes Jason Scott, creator of the Malware Museum, which has put a selected of viruses online for people to see.

Many of the viruses come from the personal archives and machines of Mikko Hypponen, a chief research scientist at antivirus company F-Secure. Over his long career Hyponnen has studied plenty of computer viruses, and the ones he’s chosen to display at the Malware Museum reflect the adolescent character of their creators, showing things like marijuana leaves or trippy LSD-inspired colors.

Most of these viruses, rendered harmless now, are somewhat funny to see because taken out of context, they can be pretty amusing. At the museum, visitors can download non-harmful versions of the viruses, as they have all had their destructive coding removed.

“I have just DESTROYED the FAT on your Disk!!” yells the screen of the Casino virus, which now seems kind of precious in comparison to more recent, more advanced computer viruses. “However, I have a copy in RAM, and I’m giving you a last chance to restore your precious data. WARNING: IF YOU RESENT NOW, ALL YOUR DATA WILL BE LOST—FOREVER!!”

The intent of the museum is to show that these older viruses could indeed be works of art, and that they were pretty clever for the coding that existed at the time. The archive exists because of donations, and it now includes text, audio, gifs (moving images), and software.

The Malware Museum considers its exhibits important material, much like any other works of literature or art. The Museum is not for profit, and it does not make grants—but it’s still really, really cool.