JAMES M. SPEA
When it comes to computer viruses don’t be fooled. It can happen to you.
Last weekend I discovered my computer was infected with a virus. This was rather upsetting because I had a paper to finish. Plus I had better things to do than nurse my poor computer back to health. But you know, I probably deserved it. I’ve never been very careful about checking floppy disks before I put them in my computer. I never virus-scan recently downloaded programs from the internet either. I figured, for some crazy reason, that I was immune.
I looked for the anti-virus program that came prepackaged with my computer. Embarrassingly, I’d never used it until now. I set things into motion and almost immediately my poor, infected word processor was located and repaired. I was ecstatic and proud. I had just thwarted some computer hacker’s evil design. Fortunately the virus had only spread to two other applications on my system. Those were repaired just as easily.
After having this experience my curiosity was stirred. I discovered that some people are not as lucky as I was.
Most problems caused by computer viruses are restricted to software. In other words, a virus can rarely do actual damage to the machinery or hardware in your computer.
Fred Clift, the System Administrator for the Computer Science Department at BYU, said that he has never heard of a virus that could destroy your computer.
In theory a virus could tell your hard drive to accelerate to higher speeds, and that could cause premature wear and tear.
“But you would hear your hard drive making awful sounds long before any real damage was done,” Clift said.
In general, computer viruses only damage the programs that you install on your computer. And since you have original backups of your programs, you can always replace one that is damaged. Unfortunately, by the time you realize that your computer was infected, you may have already lost files that are not as easily replaced; like a research paper.
Viruses are invented for a number of reasons, including political agendas, personal gain, cheap thrills and revenge.
Probably one of the most talked about viruses is one called the Word Macro Virus. It attacks the Microsoft Word word processor program. It embeds itself within the program; only initiating at a certain time or date or when a certain command is given. If a file is sent to the printer (or fax) during the last four seconds of any minute, the following text is added to the end of the printout: “And finally I would like to say … STOP ALL FRENCH NUCLEAR TESTING IN THE PACIFIC!”
While this isn’t detrimental, it is easy to see how a hacker’s little prank could cause some really big problems.
I met a young computer hacker on the internet recently who goes simply by the nickname “CRYPTION.” At 15 years old, this young man knows more about computers and operating systems than I could ever hope to. He spends three to six hours on his computer on a school day and more than 10 hours a day during weekends. While not haven written any viruses himself, Cryption admits that many of his friends have. He said they do it for fun or to get back at people. They do it because they can.
According to Cryption, creating a computer virus is not that difficult. All the information you need to create computer viruses can be found right on the internet. He learned everything he knows just by searching the web, meeting people with similar interests and reading available texts.
Clift has good advice for staying virus free. He said it’s a great idea to scan everything you allow into your computer, whether you’re using a floppy disk between school and at home or you’ve just downloaded a useful tool from the internet. A good anti-virus program and a little extra caution will save you a lot of heartache.