TOURBUS: Tuesday, November 5, 1996
DRIVER: Bob Rankin
Computer Viruses

Boo! Did I scare you? Probably not... but today's TOURBUS posting might, because we're going to talk about Computer Viruses. Ooooooh!

Let me start by saying that MOST of what you've heard about computer viruses is probably wrong. Your computer can't get one from a toilet seat, or by getting sneezed on by another computer that has a virus. You DON'T have to be scared of computer viruses, but you DO need to take certain precautions to protect your computer and its data.

This issue of TOURBUS will point you to some excellent resources to help you to learn more about computer viruses (and related nasties), ease your poor troubled mind, and protect yourself from the threat.

Let's start with a few (somewhat geeky) definitions:

A COMPUTER VIRUS is a program that can infect (invade) other computer programs.

A COMPUTER WORM is a self-contained program that is able to spread copies of itself, usually over a network.

A TROJAN HORSE is a program that purports to be fun or useful but actually does something nasty. It cannot spread like a virus or worm.

A MAIL BOMB is an e-mail message that can allegedly cause harm to your computer simply by opening and reading the message.

If you're not a geek, the difference between these five things is pretty subtle. One way or another, you're dealing with a malicious entity that can cause damage to your system. If you like, go ahead and call them all viruses, but beware that you're likely to be "corrected" by someone with one to many pencils in his pocket protector.

Are These Things For Real?

Viruses, worms and trojan horses do exist. Maybe you've heard of "Stoned", "Michelangelo" or others - these are real and can cause serious damage to a single computer or an entire network. Anything from spurious messages appearing on your screen to unexplained slowdowns to mangled files to a complete hard disk wipeout is possible.

But let me digress for just a moment to discuss some viruses that aren't...

  • The "Good Times Virus" - is a HOAX that has circulated for several years. It's supposed to be a mail bomb, but such things simply do not exist. YOU CAN NOT GET A VIRUS SIMPLY BY OPENING YOUR E-MAIL. A virus can only affect your system if you install and run a piece of software.
  • The "Netscape Mail Bomb" is not a real threat. A now-fixed bug in Navigator V3 could result in your system locking up when a certain bit of HTML code was encountered. Requests for more information about this will be cheerfully ignored. :-)
  • PKZIP300 - is not a hoax, but it has become bigger than life. PKZIP300 is supposedly a rogue "Version 3" of the popular PKZIP software that is "circulating widely" on the Internet. Claims that this trojan horse program can cause damage SIMPLY BY DOWNLOADING IT are ridiculous, and to my knowledge it is not publicly available ANYWHERE on the Internet or elsewhere. See the PKWARE site at for more info.

How Can I Avoid Computer Viruses?

First, you can't avoid viruses by shunning shareware, freeware or games. There are cases where even commercial "shrink wrapped" software was accidentally packaged with a virus.

The best course of action is to be cautious of ANY newly acquired software and to use "anti-virus" software that will automatically alert you to any potential dangers.

I also highly recommend that you read the "VIRUS-L FAQ" to get expert answers to questions like these and others:

  • What are the known viruses, major symptoms and possible cures?
  • Where can I get free or shareware antivirus programs?
  • Where can I get more information on viruses, etc?
  • What steps should be taken in diagnosing and identifying viruses?
  • What is the best way to remove a virus?
This FAQ is online at and can also be obtained by sending e-mail to LISTSERV@LEHIGH.EDU with the command "INFO VIRUS-L" in the message body.

The VIRUS-L mailing list (also available on Usenet as comp.virus) is a forum for sharing information and ideas about computer viruses. Discussions include virus sightings, virus prevention and Q & A. To subscribe, send e-mail to LISTSERV@LEHIGH.EDU with the command "SUBSCRIBE VIRUS-L Your Name" in the message body.

Who Writes Malicious Computer Viruses?

Remember that kid in high school - the one you picked on because his pant cuffs didn't come down quite far enough to meet his cheap sneakers? Your merciless taunting drove him into the computer lab, where he sought revenge on the entire human race. This is all YOUR fault. :-)

Some Other Cool Virus-Related Stuff

I hope you'll read the VIRUS-L FAQ and get yourself educated on how to avoid computer viruses. When you're done there, here's further reading: And when you're done there, pop over to visit AARDWULF, the sponsor who made today's issue possible (and find out if aardwolves really exist).
     AARDWULF Apparel offers quality brands like Timberland and
        Calvin Klein at prices you can only get on the Web!
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See you next time! --Bob

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