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Do Computer Viruses Influence Our Society?
Computer viruses like biological ones
[May. 02, 2007]
The term computer virus comes from a similar biological virus. The word virus itself is poison in Latin. Computer viruses like biological ones are harmful pieces of machine code. They copy the code into the "hosts" programs and spread further as the infected programs are run.

Computer viruses are intentionally designed to damage files and programs, and to spread themselves through the network.


In recent years the use of computers has increased in many areas of our society. Starting from home-user, business companies and ending at the governmental use. This has resulted in huge amounts of valuable information being stored on computers through out the world. The extensive uses of the Internet and e-mail have created the perfect environment for virus spread. More than 35% of virus files travel into the machines this way, but the number is on the rise. [1]

Once you have received the virus on your computer problem start. However the troubles depend on the virus. Some simple ones decrease total memory by 4,000 bytes, others completely reformat your hard disk and destroy all the data on it. Some of the most affecting ones were viruses called Melissa, Chernobyl and Love Bug. They turn your computer into a useless piece of hardware.

Viruses were written as early as 1981. However they became a problem in 1986. With the growth of the Internet the viruses also spread more quickly. The first major virus was the Morris worm that spread through the Net. It infected an estimated 10% of the computers on the Net in 1988. Making copies of itself over and over again it flood the net.

The next generation of viruses appeared in July 1995, the macro viruses. They open unwanted dialogue boxes or save information in template directory. The problem is that the time and expenses to solve the problem are big.

One of the latest viruses that spread around the world was in 1999 was the Chernobyl virus. It infected an estimated 600,000 computers worldwide. South Korea alone suffered 300,000 attacks; about 15% of their PC’s were damaged at a cost of $250 million. [2]

With 10 new viruses being created daily, it is impossible to describe each one and its effects on the individual or society. In total there have been around 50,000 computer viruses created with approximately 500 always active. [3]

Viruses interrupt the free flow of information that has been built in the past decade. No longer can we trust e-mails from unknown users or even known users, such was the case with Melissa when it e-mailed to people from your address book using your name. In both cases we run the risk of receiving a virus. That is the case on the individual level.

As more people use the network the amount of data rises and so does its economic value. This is because the specific information has real value on the market, e.g. between competing firms. Large organizations and governments are in a more dangerous position, with thousands of users the risk of receiving a virus are tremendous.

Research by Computer Economics found that virus attacks cost business more than 7.6 billion in 1999. [5] No one who uses computers, not the government, nor the police or even the bank is secure from computer viruses.

The real dangers are hidden in the communication systems and lifelines (e.g. power grids, water and transportation systems). Suppose a space shuttle carried out an order from a virus-infected software program, what can happen? Or an air traffic controller was given incorrect information from a fouled system, what then?

We are not sure how viruses are going to affect us in the future. But one thing true, as our lives depend more on computers, the dangers of us being affected are rising. Of course we will try to protect ourselves this will push the protection costs up. It is possible that the next generation of viruses will be programmed to affect a particular user on a particular network. That might be the more individual focused and more difficult to observe.

There are a number of ways in combating the viruses. The most commonly used at the moment is anti-virus software. However that is only created when the virus has established itself and it takes time to create an anti-virus software for this particular virus. In the mean time your computer can be totally destroyed.

Some solutions can be implemented in the future:
· Establishing an organization that supervises the virus spread and punishes its creators. At the moment a map of the Internet has been created, with all of its dark sides mapped. Using the map a virus can be traced to its source. Legal actions can then be taken. This method has been used in, when the "I Love You" virus spread. The file was traced to its creator and the criminal found. This way the virus creation will be discouraged; the best defense against viruses is not to allow writing them [5].

· Scanning things at the server level would allow making the information more secure. Similarly create a system where suspected files would be automatically sent to a central location for analysis. There they would be isolated on a network of computers, which trigger the virus. That way the viruses could be deleted and “clear” files send back to the user.

These two solutions are still need intensive development and funding. They do look promising, but in the mean time we can wait and use the methods available, especially not opening files from strangers.
It might be the case that in the future we will be treating viruses as a normal illness. We could also have a "virus health system" with insurance companies paying your costs.


References:
[1] Andrian Mars. The Guardian (May 8th 1997)
[2] George Beekman; Computer Confluence (Exploring Tomorrow’s Technology) 4th Edition, pp308-311.
[3] http://coverage.cnet.com/Content/Features/Howto/Virus/index.html
[4] http://www.info-sec.com/viruses/99/viruses
[5] Financial Times, October 21/22, 2000 (Weekend Edition)

Other sources:
· Peter J. Denning; Computers Under Attack. Intruders, Worms and Viruses (1990)
· The Economist:
a) The Love Bug Computer Virus (May 2000)
b) Protecting computer from viruses (January 2000)
· Tom Forester and Perry Morrison; Computer Ethics 2nd edition (1994) pp.90-99.
· by Damia Carrinngton, http:// bbc.com/2000/tech/computing/virus;, site visited October 20th, 2000


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