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Stalking a Computer Virus

Wallace Wang
November 1996

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When most people find a computer virus lurking on their hard disk, the first reaction is to grab an anti-virus program such as The Norton AntiVirus or McAfee's VirusScan, and kill the virus as quickly as possible. The two common ways to kill a computer virus are to delete the infected file (which is like killing cancer by shooting the patient) or attempting a slightly riskier method of cleaning the infected file.

Cleaning an infected file means the anti-virus program tries to remove the computer virus program code from a file without harming the infected file. In many cases, a computer virus attaches itself so firmly to a file that removing the computer virus irreparably damages the infected file as well. When this happens, you have no choice but to delete the infected file.

But rather than delete an infected file or let an anti-virus program try to clean it, you might be interested in trying a third approach, if you like living dangerously - study the computer virus and dissect it.

Such amateur virus sleuthing can be interesting but dangerous, much like trying to make pipe bombs from plans you find on the Internet. Before attempting to isolate and dissect a virus, make backups of all your important files. That way if the virus gets loose and wipes out your hard disk, you won't lose everything for good. (Better yet, practice looking for a virus on a computer that you don't care about, such as an old computer or a computer belonging to your boss or disliked co-worker. That way if a virus gets loose and wipes everything out, at least your computer data will still be safe.)

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