Virus Labs & Distribution
VLAD #2 - Virus Law

   VIRUS LAW!      by Qark and Metabolis

   These are extracts from the book 'Computers and the Law' by Greg
   Cudmore, 1994 and is an Australian perspective on the virus problem
   from a legal viewpoint.  Also included in it are some articles of
   incidents encountered in real life...  The legal aspects are sensible
   but the actual technical information is ignorant.

   Comments in [square brackets] are by me (qark).


   What is a Computer Virus?

   Computer hackers may inadvertently or deliberately introduce a virus
   to a computer system.  A virus is a program that is designed to damage
   the data or software of the host computer.  This is then often transmitted
   to other computers in a destructive chain reaction. [This is the most 
   pathetic description of a virus I've ever heard, no wonder people are
   paranoid].  Some viruses are harmless and may print a mischievous message
   or electronic graffiti on the user's screen.  Others freeze operation,
   shut a system down or destroy whole systems.  Examples of viruses
   include 'Twin Peaks', 'Burger','Michelangelo','Leprosy','Marijuana',
   'Green Caterpillar', and 'Eddie'.  One called 'Cookie Monster' continually
   sends the message 'I want a cookie!" across the computer screen until you
   type the word 'cookie'.  Melbourne and Brisbane are apparently the
   Australian capitals of computer virus trouble, [This is true, but
   Melbourne isnt that big except for having nuke.  Perth is emerging as
   well, but mysteriously Australia's biggest city Sydney has never even
   produced a flicker of activity] having introduced 'No Frills' and
   'Gingerbread Man'.  'Gingerbread's' message is simply 'Ha,Ha,Ha,
   I'm the Gingerbread Man, and ends with 'Made in Oz!'. 

   Most viruses are spread by the exchange of floppy disks and are more
   prevalent in stand-alone personal computers than networked systems
   because operating software does not contain user and supervisor modes.
   Most users are unaware that their computer has caught a virus and pass
   it on unwittingly.

   Computer Viruses and the Law

   The problem for the legal system in dealing with computer viruses is
   that the criminal law generally requires that the defendant commit an
   unlawful act (actus reus) as well as having the accompanying criminal
   intention (mens rea).  In many cases viruses are transmitted
   inadvertently.  Law-makers are reluctant to punish people who
   accidentally commit offences.  However, if the offender is grossly
   negligent they may be held criminally liable.

   It is often difficult to trace the origins of a virus and its author.
   But if the author is somehow detected, should they be held responsible
   for all the subsequent chaos and damage caused by the spread of the
   virus?  This is also an important issue in civil law.  A defendant is
   only liable for damages if the harm is not too remote from the unlawful
   act.  [Legal babble... methinks we are clear anyway :) ]

   If an organisation is clearly lax in its security precautions, should
   this reduce the liability of the author of the virus?  In civil law if
   a plaintiff is negligent and contributes to the harm inflicted by their
   negligence, then the compensation (damages) awarded may be reduced
   accordingly.  Should the criminal law make a similar concession and give
   the author of the virus a lighter penalty ?  [That sounds like they can
   get you, but they have failed to address the issue, of what crime a
   person commits when they write a virus ?  Distribution is a different

   Newspaper Extracts

   Early Bulgarian viruses were benign.  The first of them popped up on
   screens from Milwaukee to Mongolia one Friday afternoon in 1988 and
   played "Yankee Doodle Dandy".  Later viruses were more aggresive,
   particularly the Dark Avenger's (author of the viruses) brilliantly
   destructive "Eddie" which wipes material and leaves a calling card
   saying, "Eddie lives ... somewhere in time".  When "The Rat" came on
   the scene, appalled computer operators have discovered wholesale
   destruction of their data accompanied by the message: "Your well
   has been poisoned".

   Graham Barret, The Age, 18 February 1991

   New Virus Overwrites the Files it Infects

   Virus alerts have come from two Melbourn companies in time for the
   opening of the PC 92 Show today.  Both viruses overwrite the first
   1310 bytes of the infected files.

   Cybec calls the PC virus "Twin Peaks", but the warning about the
   Burger-1310 virus from Loadplan Australia six days later appears
   to be the same animal.

   The technical director of Cybec, Mr Roger Riordan, who will attend
   the PC Show this week, said the Twin Peaks sample he investigated
   had been downloaded from a Melbourne bulletin board and was contained
   in a file called MIPS.COM

   His company's anti-virus software has been updated - VET version
   6.94 - to detect the virus, but Mr Riordan warned that Twin Peaks
   destroyed infected files and they had to be deleted.

   After infecting files, the message "Welcome to Twin Peaks virus"
   flashes on screen.  The program then usually crashes, locking
   up the system.

   Mr Riordan said: "In our tests it only infected .COM files and
   is capable of infecting read-only files.  When all files in the
   current director are infected, it searches sub directories.  It
   contains code to rename files but the function of this has not
   been determined."

   Loadplan descrived the new virus as a variation of the Burger
   virus.  It has been called Burger-1310  becaue of the infective
   length.  [Great, a crappy overwriting virus gets a big write-up]

   According to Loadplan: "It is a poor replicator and is therefore
   unlikely to appear often."  However, the company warned: "If it
   is discovered it may have been deliberately introduced rather than 
   have spread itself."

   Mr Riordan will be available to answer questions on viruses during
   PC 92 at Cybec's stand (number 628).

   Mr Riordan has been working to counter the effects of PC viruses
   since 1989.  As technical manager of Cybec and the developer of
   VET, he has been at the forefront of anti-viral research in 

   During this time, Mr Riordan has named several viruses including
   the now-notorious Michelangelo.  [I thought McAfee named Michaelangelo]

   The Age, 11 August 1992




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