Computer Industry Braces for Virus Hit

By Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 5, 1992 | Go to article overview

Computer Industry Braces for Virus Hit


Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


TOMORROW the computer industry finds out whether Michelangelo the virus is as destructive as Michelangelo the artist was creative.

Friday - the artist's birthday - is the trigger date for one of the fastest-spreading computer viruses ever found. Discovered only last April in the Netherlands and Sweden, Michelangelo has infected computers around the world.

"It spreads very quickly, very widely, and is very damaging," says Steven Winegar, marketing director of utilities products at Microcom Inc. The company, headquartered in Norwood, Mass., sells an antivirus product called Virex.

"It seems to be blanketing many computers out there," adds Michael Alexander, senior editor of advanced technology at Computerworld magazine. Some market researchers believe Michelangelo already accounts for 15 percent of all virus infections.

Computer viruses are software programs intentionally designed to insinuate themselves into computers and control them. Sometimes they are innocuous. One of the earliest viruses, "Stoned," displays the message: "Your PC is now stoned!"

Michelangelo, which has elements of the Stoned virus, is much more destructive. It resides in the computer's boot sector - the area of a floppy drive or hard disk that contains the information a computer needs to "boot up" or start. Users who boot their machines with an infected floppy disk cause the virus to spread to the hard disk.

On March 6, Michelangelo is scheduled to reformat the disks of all its infected computers, erasing their data. Worse, it will then overwrite the disk with random characters. This makes the original data all but impossible to recover.

"I think this is terrorism in the information age," says Jim Flach, vice president and general manager of Intel's personal-computer enhancement division. Intel, in Santa Clara, Calif., is one of several companies that have unwittingly shipped products infected with Michelangelo in recent months.

The virus itself is not technically remarkable. It is less virulent than some other viruses, such as Dark Avenger and Disk Killer, Computerworld's Mr. …

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