It Is Contagious


"Traces of the Stealth_c Virus have been found in memory.
Reboot to a clean system disk before continuing with this
installation." This was the message staring back at me from
one of the computer monitors at my office. Questions raced
through my mind. "Stealth_c?" "What's a system disk?" "How
am I supposed to install anti-virus software if the
computer system already has a virus?"
As a discouraging feeling of helplessness came over me, I
thought of all the people who had loaded something from
disk on this box or who had used this box to access the
Internet. Because there was no virus protection in the
first place, it was going to be very difficult to determine
how many floppy disks and hard drives had been infected. I
wished I had learned about computer viruses a long time
ago. What is a computer virus, anyway? Is it a computer
with a cold? A computer "virus" is called a virus because
of three distinct similarities to a biological virus. They
are: ? They must have the ability to make copies of, or
replicate, itself. ? They must have a need for a "host," or
functional program to which it can attach. ? The virus must
do some kind of harm to the computer system or at least
cause some kind of unexpected or unwanted behavior.
Sometimes computer viruses just eat up memory or display
annoying messages, but the more dangerous ones can destroy
data, give false information, or completely freeze up a
computer. The Stealth_c virus is a boot sector virus,
meaning that it resides in the boot sectors of a computer
disk and loads into memory with the normal boot-up
programs. The "stealth" in the name comes from the
capability of this virus to possibly hide from anti-virus
Virtually any media that can carry computer data can carry
a virus. Computer viruses are usually spread by data
diskettes, but can be downloaded from the Internet, private
bulletin boards, or over a local area network. This makes
it extremely easy for a virus to spread once it has
infected a system. The aforementioned Stealth_c virus was
transported by the least likely avenue; it was packaged
with commercial software. This is an extremely rare
occurrence, as most software companies go to great lengths
to provide "clean" software. There is a huge commercial
interest in keeping computers virus-free. Companies stand
to lose literally thousands of dollars if they lose
computer data to a virus. An immense amount of time can be
lost from more productive endeavors if someone has to check
or clean each computer and floppy diskette of the virus
because, no matter what, it will continue to replicate
itself until it uses every bit of memory available. To
service this market, companies sell anti- virus software,
which scans programs, searching for viruses. If one is
found, a user can "kill" it by cleaning the file, delete
the file itself, move the file to a disk, or ignore it.
Ignoring a possible virus is an option provided because
some of the newer software utilizes heuristic algorithms to
detect possible viruses. This method of detection is highly
effective but, because of the sensitivity of the programs,
false hits can occur. It is also very important to keep
your anti-virus software current. By some estimates, forty
to one hundred new virus programs are written every week by
less than ethical programmers. Most software companies put
out new "vaccines" every month.
It is like an ongoing battle, the bad guys write a new
virus or even a new "species" of virus, the good guys get a
copy from some poor soul whose computer has been infected,
and they write a vaccine. Some of the more paranoid, or
perhaps astute, have theorized that the companies writing
anti- virus software and the programmers writing viruses
are one in the same. However, the author of a computer
virus means nothing to one whose machine has lost data or
has crashed due to infection. Detecting and deleting the
virus becomes the immediate action needed. This is
impossible without anti-virus software, and would be much
simpler if the software is already installed on a system.
So, keep your computers "vaccinated," because, it is


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