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
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
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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