An old article from 1988…when viruses were first introduced into the world.
Computers hit by mystery bug
Byline: NICK RUFFORD, Science Correspondent
A NEW strain of ‘computer virus’ which threatens hundreds of thousands of IBM personal computer has appeared for the first time in Britain.
The ‘bug’ is not a virus in the biological sense, but a rogue computer program invented by high-tech vandals. It replicates itself and ‘infects’ any computer it comes into contact with. It can be programmed to attack data files and wipe out years of painstakingly assembled information on floppy discs.
It attacks only IBM PC machines, one of the best selling designs in both the business and home computer markets, and IBM imitations produced by other companies.
It is not yet known how far the virus – called ‘Brain’ – has spread. But its discovery sours IBM’s celebration to mark the production of its two millionth IBM PC, which came off the production line last week at the company’s plant near Glasgow.
Brain is believed to have arrived in Britain from Pakistan via the east coast of the United States, where it has already infected computers on several university campuses.
It was discovered by Alan Soloman, chairman of the IBM PC user group, who last week warned that it was only a matter of time before it spread to the business world and caused widespread damage.
IBM said it was ‘very concerned’ and advised customers who experienced the problem to approach the company for help. A spokesman said it may be possible to neutralise the virus with an ‘antidote’ program.
Brian is a particularly insidious program. It conceals itself inside the ‘boot’ sector of a disc, which contains commands written in machine code intended only for the computer to read.
Victims can only tell when they have been infected when they call up the disc directory and find the message ‘(c) Brain’. By then the virus is already established and almost impossible to erase.
Soloman said he had been sent a copy of the virus by a member of academic staff at a university somewhere in Britain, where he claimed it may have infected a large number of machines. He would not disclose the location because of danger that computer buffs would seek to get hold of copies and spead it even faster.
Computer experts say that viruses are now a serious threat to computer systems. As well as being capable of causing millions of pounds worth of damge, there are few fears that some kinds of virus could invade air traffic control computers, with disastrous results.
They spread via electronic message systems which link computers together, and lie hidden in discs. When discs are swapped or sold on the black market, the virus finds another victim.
Some experts argue that viruses are deliberately manufactured by computer software companies to discourage pirating of their material.
Software companies deny this and say it as as bizarre as suggesting that Aids virus was manufactured as part of a plot by fanatical moralists to discourage promiscuity.
Nevertheless, computer users are encouraged to take precautionary ‘hygiene’ measures like avoiding pirated software to prevent their machines becoming infected.
The source of a virus is usually never discovered. However, The Sunday Times has established that this deadly strain was developed by two brothers in Pakistan in 1986, who use the nicknames Brain and Amjads.
The brothers, aged 19 and 23, who run a computer shop in Lahore, owned up to creating the virus after their names and addresses appeared in part of the Brain program.
They said they wrote it as a joke, not intending to become a worldwide computer problem. But the virus spread to the United States, probably on a computer disc, which was either carried abroad in a suitcase or sent through the post.
Anne Webster, who works in Academics Computing Services at the University of Delaware, where it was detected last October, said: ‘It is a very serious thing. The potential for damage of systems and the amount of time spent clearing up afterwards is significant. It is just like vandalism.’ Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1988
By NICK RUFFORD, Science Correspondent
Source Citation (MLA 7th Edition)