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In the name of malace or for business

IN THE NAME OF BUSINESS OR FOR MALICE

A look into the computer virus

by, Michael Ross

Engineering 201.02

January 22, 1997

Most of us swap disks with friends and browse the Net looking for downloads. Rarely do we ever consider that we are also exchanging files with anyone and everyone who has ever handled them in the past. If that sounds like a warning about social diseases, it might as well be. Computer viruses are every bit as insidious and destructive, and come in a vast variety of strains. A computer virus tears up your hard drive and brings down your network. However, computer viruses are almost always curable diagnosed, and cures for new strains are usually just a matter of days, not months or years, away.

Virus, a program that "infects" computer files (usually other executable programs) by inserting in those files' copies of itself. This is usually done in such a manner that the copies will be executed when the file is loaded into memory, allowing them to infect still other files, and so on. Viruses often have damaging side effects, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. (Microsoft Encarta 1996)

Most viruses are created out of curiosity. Viruses have always been viewed as a well written, creative product of software engineering. I admit there are many out there who create them out of malice, but far more people are just meeting a challenge in software design. The people who make anti-virus software have much more to benefit from the creation of new virii. This is not a slam, just an observation. A common type of virus would be a Trojan Horse, or a destructive program disguised as a game, a utility, or an application. When run, a Trojan Horse does something devious to the computer system while appearing to do something useful (Microsoft Encarta, 1996). A Worm is also a popular type of virus. A worm is a program that spreads itself across computers, usually by spawning copies of itself in each computer's memory. A worm might duplicate itself in one computer so often that it causes the computer to crash. Sometimes written in separate "segments," a worm is introduced secretly into a host system either for "fun" or with intent to damage or destroy information. The term 'Worm' comes from a science-fiction (Microsoft Encarta 1996).

Some viruses destroy programs on computers although, the better virii do not. Most virus authors incorporate code that specifically destroys data after the virus determines certain criteria have been met, that is, a date, or a certain number of replications. Many virus do not do a good job of infecting other programs and end up corrupting, or making the program they are trying to infect completely unusable. The purpose of a virus, in many cases, is to infect as many files, with little or no noticeable difference to the user.

How does a virus scanner work?

Most virus scanners use a very simple method of searching for a particular sequence of bytes that make every virus unique, like a DNA sequence. When a new virus is discovered, a fairly long sequence of bytes from it is inserted into the anti-virus software database. That's why you need to keep them updated. Any virus scanner you buy should handle at least three tasks: virus detection, prevention, and removal. There are some virus scanners that use a method called heuristic scanning. They use 'rules of thumb' that can be used to identify some virii that has not even been put in the virus database yet. What are the rules of thumb? Well, they are basic assembly language clues that make the file suspicious, such as a JMP instruction at the top of the file. No virus scanner is infallible and anyone that tells you so have no idea what they are talking about. The two best virus scanners in my opinion are F-PROT and THUNDERBYTE. They use the heuristic method described above.

In conclusion; viruses are, and always will be, a part of the computing world. They have been around since programming began and will continue to thrive as long as computers are used. Technology will force us to adapt and be aware that any information we place on a computer may not be safe.

References

Deadly New Computer Viruses Want To Kill Your PC usability.

By James Daley http://www.headlines.yahoo.com/news/stories

originally published in Computer Shopper December 1996

Microsoft Encarta 96; Reference Material Microsoft corporation

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