A computer virus is a program that executes when an infected program is executed. It is capable of reproducing itself and usually capable of causing great harm to files or other programs on the same computer. Like biological viruses, computer viruses can spread quickly and are often difficult to eradicate. They can attach themselves to just about any type of file, and are spread by replicating and being sent from one individual to another. These are one of the few harmless viruses, simply replicating and spreading to new systems. There are a couple of different types of computer viruses:
- Boot-sector viruses
- Parasitic viruses
- Multi-partite viruses
- Macro viruses
These classifications take into account the different ways in which the virus can infect different parts of a system. The manner in which each of these types operates has one thing in common: any virus has to be executed in order to operate (Lammer V., 1993)
How in different ways those computer viruses can affect the IT industry and the society. What kind of implications they might cause? What kind of motivation motivates them to develop these computer viruses? Are they aware of the ethical matter surrounding their development? These are the issues that will be discussing in this report.
Many claims have been made for the existence of viruses prior to the 1980s, but so far these claims have not been accompanied by proof. The Core Wars programming contests did involve self-replicating code, but usually within a structured and artificial environment. It was not until the end of the decade (and 1987 in particular) that knowledge of real viruses became widespread, even among security experts. For many years boot sector infectors and file infectors were the only types of common viruses. The boot sector virus, dubbed the “cBrain”, was first incarnated written back in January 1986, considered to be the first computer virus for MS-DOS. It was programmed to infect the boot sector of storage media formatted with the DOS File Allocation Table (FAT) file system (Mary Landesman, 2000).
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In the early 1990s, virus writers started experimenting with various functions intended to defeat detection, among these were polymorphism. Polymorphic viruses are more difficult to detect by scanning as each copy of the virus looks different than other copies. Basically, polymorphic code mutates while keeping the original algorithm intact. Another introduction in the 1990s was the macro and script viruses, they were initially confined to word processing files, particularly files associated with the Microsoft Office Suite. However, the inclusion of programming capabilities eventually led to script viruses in many objects that would normally be considered to contain data only, such as Excel spreadsheets, Power Point presentation files, and email messages. This fact led to greatly increased demands for computer resources among antiviral systems. Email viruses became the major new form in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and while it is very visible and so tend to be indentified within a short space of time, but many are macros or scripts and so generate many variants (John Wiley, 2004).
Computer ethics and computer viruses
What impact did computer viruses have on ethics in the computer community? With the explosion of the number of computer viruses, this remains an unanswered question. In the years since viruses first appeared in the MS/PC-DOS computing environment, they have grown in both numbers and complexity at an alarming rate. They have become not only commonplace, but also extremely difficult to defend against. The virus creators have designed, compiled and released encrypting viruses, multipartite viruses, stealth viruses and viruses employing encryption techniques so bizarre that it warrants immediate concern. The scope of the problem has grown to the point where computer users are desperate for answers to their questions sand solutions to the computer virus dilemma (Ferguson, 1992).
The computer ethics situation at present is as distorted and convoluted as it could have ever been imagined. Some of the more disturbing activities in the virus information channels recently, have been irresponsible postings of source code, DEBUG scripts of live viruses and overall disregard of computer ethics and morals. To complicate matters, virus exchange Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) have cropped up where viruses and virus source code are freely exchanged. The people who engage in these activities have successfully shown their disregard for the remainder of the computing public. Perhaps these individuals have not given ample thought to the consequences of their actions. By allowing live computer viruses to freely filter into the public domain, they are ultimately responsible for any damage inflicted, either directly or indirectly, due to their negligence or disregard (Ferguson, 1992).
According to the study of (Gordon, 1994) in which she has examined the ethics of virus writers using Kohlberg’s ethical model, the observation shows that the virus writers are not a homogenous group, since they vary in age, education level, economical level, background, manner of communication, perspective of their society, and have different preferences. All of the foregoing will lead to different modes of thinking and different motivations behind their behavior. The adolescent and college virus writers are within the norms of their age group of the ethical development model, the reason for their behavior in writing and releasing viruses were unclear according to the collected information (Gordon, 1994, p15). While adult virus writers seem to be under the norm for their age group of the ethical development model and ‘The Enemy’ seem to be “Society” (Gordon, 1994, p.15). It seems that virus writers desire to accomplish their goal conceals their vision from viewing the ethical issues, another reason could be their dissatisfaction with the society, since the ethics belong to it, and they want revenge against everything in their society including the ethics (Ahmad, 2005, p. 41).
Implications may be for IT industry
Computer virus implications on the IT industry may cause some company to upgrade their security to higher security level. The growing need for computer security specialists is predictable. Consultants may earn enviable income by telling corporate computer users how to protect their machines from catastrophic failure and how to use antidote and vaccine products. The computer specialists will be in a never ending game with each other. As they develop preventive vaccines and administer the viral antidotes, the viral breeders will also be developing new viruses to overcome the new security measures. (Lin & Chang, 1989)
The implications of the computer virus growth are especially important for Management Information Systems (MIS) as well. Management is becoming aware of the security considerations and internal policies of the firm. In order to prevent system contamination, employees should be warned not to use any unchecked programs. The MIS management should set more straightforward policies and the repercussions of not abiding by them. Similarly, any software used in the office should remain there and no place else. This is to safeguard against possible infections that could occur outside of the office environment. The focus of most policies will be on preventing external intrusions rather than internal threats simply for the sake of reducing external dangers (Lin & Chang, 1989).
Implications may be for society
In early May of year 2000, the message “I Love You” appeared among emails of computer users worldwide. The attached virus since dubbed the “Love Bug”, infected up to 45 million computers, paralyzed bodies ranging from the World Health Organization to the Pentagon and is said to have cost business tens of billions of pounds in the UK alone. The Love Bug affected only software created by Microsoft, taking advantage of recent changes designed to improve performance, unfortunately over 90% of desktop computers were using Microsoft software. This software monoculture creates a system with an intrinsically high risk of catastrophic failure.
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There are millions of computer virus developers out there in this world, creating the right virus all the time trying to expose the security of many kinds of system. As you can see, the number of computer viruses found in the world is increasing each year. Every time software and antivirus software developers invent new technology to prevent virus infection, computer virus writers thrilled the world with their ability to go around the new technology and develop the right virus for each age.
There are hundreds of thousands of viruses out there (if not millions) and they often designed for different objectives, the writers of computer virus are not a homogenous group, their motivations could be the need to express their dissatisfaction with their social level, to achieve their revenge or to prove their technical ability, drawing attention, becoming famous and well known. It seems that computer virus writers’ determination to accomplish their goal may conceal their vision from viewing the ethical and legal issues (or they might not even care). Another reason could be their dissatisfaction with their society, since the ethics and legal codes belongs to it, and they want revenge for everything in their society including the ethics and legal codes (Ahmad, 2005, p. 43).
The battle between the securities specialists against virus creators will never come to an end, as virus creators will always trying to overcome the security measures, antidotes and vaccines. These are just few of the impacts that can be expected on the computer industry. As for the computer society, the computer virus has become a fact of life.
Mary Landesman (2000) “Boot Sector Virus Repair”
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