Computer Viruses


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There’re viruses that don’t affect human body but are still really painful for mankind. It is computer viruses. A computer virus itself is a program that diffuses into the computer files and cracks them. The first acknowledged virus dates back to 1987 called the “Brain". The “Brain" is a boot sector virus. A boot sector virus affects the boot sector which is a small program where information about the drive or disk structure is held. The boot sector is used when the operating system is started up. As a result of the virus attaching itself to the boot sector, every time the computer boots up, the virus is loaded to memory. This type of virus can spread very quickly in environments where computers are shared. A boot sector virus works as long as the computer is on and this guarantees that the virus gets executed because all computers need to boot up. Other types of viruses are the file or program infector viruses, the macro viruses and most recently, e-mail viruses. The file or program viruses connect themselves to executable programs and then once the programs are run, they load themselves onto memory and from there infect the rest of the computer.

Macro viruses attack programs with macros, which are programs that allow users to run a single input and be able to trigger a series of instructions which the computer automatically executes. Macro viruses infect such programs as spreadsheet and word processing files. They are dangerous because once the file is shared the virus is also shared. Also, these viruses can be spread to different platforms such as from Microsoft Windows to Macintosh operating systems which make these viruses more harmful. More recently, e-mail viruses have become popular. Worms such as the “Melissa virus" have been a threat in recent years where the worm would affix itself to a Word Document and then the virus would create an email and send it to the first fifty people of the user’s e-mail address book. This caused such a widespread infection that it forced Microsoft and other companies to shut down their email systems for a while. There are also the Trojan viruses that disguise themselves behind something valid and useful and then they would infect files once the disguises are opened. Trojans do not reproduce like worms but it can destroy files and cause harm like them. The general public’s view of a virus writer is a misconception that he is a “dysfunctional, pasty-faced teenager with no girlfriend and no life". One reason that can be attributed to this generalization is the fact that the internet is able to hide the virus writer’s identity so the general public will take on a false impression of the writer. The realistic scenario is that most virus writers are normal people with normal lifestyles and they often do not write codes for malicious purposes. Virus writers come from different age groups, backgrounds, and countries. Many of them write viruses for different purposes. Most of the teenage virus writers code viruses for the excitement and the challenge that it brings.

Additionally, writing a new virus gives the writers credibility and status among their peers. Aside from the benign intentions of teenage virus writers, harm can be caused when they forget to “think about the effect their actions will have on other people". Most virus writers who were teenagers in the past have already grown out of the virus writing phase and consider virus writing an inferior type of coding. Since the unveiling of the internet to the public, anyone that has access to a computer and internet can now go on the web and search for virus source codes and put together a malicious program and send it off through the internet. Current virus coders who still continue to write viruses and post them (source codes, not executable virus programs) on the internet agree that they “intentionally create and distribute viruses" to harm others. They do note that posting of source codes will not prevent those that have destructive intentions from putting together the source codes into a program and sending it off. The source code writers argue that they should not be held responsible for their creations because the writing of the code does not cause any real harm, but the person who puts them into a program and sends it to others are the culprit. The writing of virus serves many purposes like enhancing a person’s knowledge of code and learning how a virus works. Learning about viruses is beneficial because it forces many companies to build better systems to prevent virus attacks.

Another view on virus writers is that they use viruses for harmful intentions. Those that are “motivated by financial gain" are likely to be working with internet companies in order to make a profit off their virus victims. Some of these companies are internet spammers who hire the best virus writers around the world to help them. These virus writers are writing viruses for the sole purpose of stealing personal information from the computers of the people they infect. There are those virus writers who do it to “claim territory, to make a mark in the internet that will be seen by many others". These types of writers are motivated by the feeling of the global damages they cause by sending their virus through the internet. Virus writers who write their code to do harm are like other criminals around the world. They have damaging intentions and they should be punished. Those that have outgrown the virus writing phase will eventually be replaced by new virus writers. However, in the United States, lawmakers are attempting to keep up with the quick changing technology and the problems that come with it. Although distribution of a virus with a malicious intent is considered a federal crime, the sole act of writing or providing easy access to virus code is not. The United States courts have come to establish original computer code as a form of intellectual property, putting it in the same category as music and artwork. Intellectual property is protected under the 1st Amendment of free speech. This was established in 1995 after a graduate student, Daniel Bernstein, filed a law suit against the government for violating his constitutional right because to post an encryption program, the government ruled that he would need to register as an international weapons dealer fearing that the program would mask illegal activity. States have also attempted to coin their own laws but they are limited to addressing unauthorized access to networks or sabotage. This is because other computer laws they try to address come up against the roadblock of the extraterritoriality of the crimes. Therefore, the best legislation enacted so far is the CFAA. Viruses will most likely begin to enter newer territory. For example, the Phage virus, was the first virus to be written for handheld devices (PC world) and it is likely that it is just the beginning of many to come which can be spread through ‘beaming’ features of handheld devices. There is also a more menacing fear that malicious code will be used in cyber-terrorism, much like an electronic weapon of mass destruction, and many experts are surprised this still has not occurred seeing that most systems are not well equipped to deal with this kind of attack.

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