Biological Virus vs Computer Virus – Are they the same?

I send this article to one of the local medical newsletter publisher, and she promise me to publish it in January next year.

Do you know that computer virus and biological virus have a very similar behaviour? We as doctors, knows that virus is one of the most common pathogen to man. For computers, virus is also one of their most common ‘pathogen’. Most of us know what to do with biological virus that affects our patients, but do we have enough knowledge on viruses that infect our computer? We becomes more exposed to computer viruses as the computer technology and internet evolves.

Let us look into the similarities between the the two and what can we do to protect our computer from the threats. In computer security, computer virus is a self-replicating computer program that spreads by inserting copies of itself into other executable code or documents. A computer virus behaves in a way similar to a biological virus, which spreads by inserting itself into living cells. Extending the analogy, the insertion of a virus into the program is termed as an “infection”, and the infected file, or executable code that is not part of a file, is called a “host”.

Unlike a biological virus, a computer virus is a small program written by human to alter the way a computer operates, without the permission or knowledge of the user. By definition, a virus must meet two criteria:

  • It must execute itself. It will often place its own code in the path of execution of another program. (In biological virus, it often place its own DNA code in the host DNA)
  • It must replicate itself. For example, it may replace other executable files with a copy of the virus infected file. (In biological virus, it may also replace the the other cells with a copy of the virus DNA with it). Sounds scary huh?

Some viruses are programmed to damage the computer by damaging programs, deleting files, or reformatting the hard disk. Likewise a biological virus, it may alter your cells, killing some of your tissues and sometimes damaging your organs. Others are not designed to do any damage, but simply to replicate themselves and make their presence known by presenting text, video, and audio messages. Even these benign viruses can create problems for the computer user. They typically take up computer memory used by legitimate programs. As a result, they often cause erratic behavior and can result in system crashes.

My personal experience with computer virus was not a pleasant one. About 2 years back, my laptop was infected with a virus – twice with the same one. My existing antivirus at that time was unable to detect the virus, but after doing some research from the internet and confirm about the threats, I end up reinstalling my Windows XP – twice, and changing my antivirus three times. Since then, I become more careful when downloading files and installing new applications from the internet.

We need to have an antivirus software to protect our computer from getting infected with viruses. Nowadays, there are a lot of good proprietary antivirus software for you to choose to install in your computer. I won’t go into the details about the proprietary software, as I don’t like to pay for the things that I can get (which is a similar one) for free. As an open source software and freeware enthusiast, I currently use one of the best free antivirus available from the internet. AVG Free Edition Antivirus http://free.grisoft.com/. It has a feature that I like the most – an automatic update of your virus definition. By having the features on, it will make sure that your computer is protected from the most recent virus threats. Honestly, AVG never disappoint me after 2 years using it.

I was once asked by my brother, why can’t we use the pirated version of the well known antivirus? I said to him yes, you can, but the antivirus will only be functioning for a few short months after the installation. After the antivirus central server detected that your copy is not genuine, the antivirus will automatically become corrupted. It happened to me once, few years back with Norton Antivirus. I installed a pirated copy of the antivirus. It runs smoothly for the first few months, but it becomes corrupted after an automatic virus definition update. During the update, they notice that my copy was not genuine.

While we are talking about the similarities, there are, of course, distinctive differences between them. But, for me, the only differences that strikes me the most is vaccines. Will there be ‘vaccines’ for computer viruses?

2 thoughts on “Biological Virus vs Computer Virus – Are they the same?

  1. Thank you very much for this important analogy between electronic & biological viruses. Hopefully, humans will not release man assembled (or reassembled) viruses which have become part of our research efforts to understand the diseases they cause. Good health to you, Sir.

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