aren't getting much ink these days, but they're still lurking out
by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published
in Business in
Vancouver , Issue #299 July 18, 1995 High Tech
viruses were a thing of the past. We even got through Michelangelo's
birthday without the once-typical blast of media coverage. But while
media technology sensationalism seems to be focusing on a combination
of cyberhackers and pornography on the Internet, computer viruses
are still around, and, if anything, more prevalent.
instance, an unknown
number of the 10,000 subscribers to Mississauga-based CRS Online,
one of Canada's biggest and best-known bulletin-board systems, recently
found their computers infected with a new virus known as the Big Caibua
(who thinks up these names, anyway?). They'd downloaded a file that
ran a pornographic screensaver, but while displaying its on-screen
graphics, it was working behind the scenes, creating new directories
with obscene names, and corrupting random data on their hard drives.
four known viruses for IBM-type personal computers. Today,
an average of 110 new viruses are created each month, for a rapidly
increasing total that is already pushing 7,000 virus strains. IBM
has suggested that, on average, companies running 1,000 or more PCs
suffer a virus infection every couple of months; most, however, don't
want to talk about their experiences, fearing that customers may be
In the CRS
users became infected using software downloaded from a bulletin board
system (BBS). For a number of years, BBSs have had a bad reputation
as a potential source of virus infection. In fact, most BBSs take
great pains to ensure that their files are virus-free. The Big Caibua
virus was too new, however, to be detected by any of the major
programs. (You can be sure, however, that it will be found by the
next version of these programs: most are upgraded every few months.)
the idea (and
sometimes the reality) of spreading computer viruses over the phone,
according to a survey recently released by the National Computer
Security Association, 87 per cent of users reporting virus
traced them to an infected floppy disk. In many cases, this involved
employees bringing infected disks from home to their work--often in
order to install games on office machines.
somewhat gleefully but also with some accuracy, ties the spread of
viruses to software pirating, even shrink-wrapped software fresh from
the store can be infected. In some cases, this has been the result
of stores that shrink-wrapped returns, putting packages back on the
shelf after they'd been unknowingly tried out on infected systems.
also been several reported cases of viruses being inadvertently
by major software companies selling hundreds or thousands of infected
disks. A few years ago, one major manufacturer was embarrassed after
handing out a large number of infected free demo disks at a Comdex
disease, there is no absolute security against computer viruses short
of total abstinence, which would mean not loading any new software
and never using a floppy disk without formatting it first. That's
an unrealistic option.
software provides a great deal of protection. A basic anti-virus
has been included with recent versions of DOS, for example. Commercial
programs are available from a number of companies, big and small.
Some of the best programs are available as shareware, and can be
through a modem from local bulletin board systems. (I like the
F-Prot, which is available free for personal use, and can be registered
for the reasonable cost of $1 per machine per year.)
getting a virus-protection
package is much like keeping a condom in your wallet: it's only
if you use it. Different computer users are at different levels of
risk, depending on their activities. If you install lots of software,
bring floppies from home to work, get software from friends and
or over a modem, you're at a higher risk for infection: upgrade your
virus protection software regularly. F-Prot is updated every 90 days
to include protection from new virus types. Symantec's popular
commercial Norton Anti-Virus lets registered users add new virus
files from its on-line bulletin board in California, or will mail
them regularly for an added-cost subscription.
they are last
year's media villain, computer viruses are still around, as dangerous
as ever, but they needn't mean the end of computing as we know it.
With proper precautions, you can minimize the risk of an attack, and
learn to control one if it happens.