OS News

4 October 1998


The New OS and Suceptability to Viruses

By David Choi


 
   
Despite the magnitude of harm that can be induced by viruses, developers working on a new OS often seem to ignore the issue  
They may not be here yet, but once the OS reaches a certain critical mass of popularity, you can bet that viruses will start popping up.  
There are viruses right now that can infect your Be OS PC  
The sophistication of modern viruses requires the same sophistication from virus detectors  
 

There are presently well over 2000 known computer viruses. Many of these viruses are of course targeted at Wintel based machinery, but other architectures are not by any means immune. Viruses currently exist that have been specifically targeted at Apple and Unix based machinery. Many of these viruses are little more than annoyances. However some can wreak havoc on a computer or a network. This is terrible for a business trying to make money, but it can be downright dangerous for those institutions involved in the public's safety--such as the military and airlines. But despite the magnitude of harm that can be induced by viruses, developers working on a new OS often seem to ignore the issue.

Though there have been many "new" OSes over the years, I'll use the Be OS as a case study for this article. Right now, it is the major "from the ground up" new OS in the industry. Even as I write this it would not surprise me in the slightest if someone was writing a virus specifically for the Be OS, right now! It is exactly for these reasons that action should be taken swiftly by the Be developer community to design effective solutions against viruses on the Be OS. They may not be here yet, but once the OS reaches a certain critical mass of popularity, you can bet that viruses will start popping up.

As I began writing this article I really found myself hesitating. I thought to myself, "Am I letting open a pandora's box by doing this? Could it be that nobody even thought of it until I brought it up? Well since you're reading this article you know which side won.

There may be many people not understanding why I'm bringing this issue up now. I mean isn't it a little premature? There are no known viruses for the Be OS as of yet, so why stir up trouble? Unfortunately there are viruses right now that can infect your Be OS PC. They're called boot sector viruses. In fact the most common virus of all time, Stoned, is a boot sector virus. As their namesake implies these viruses infect the boot sector of a disk. Here's how infection could happen. You take a diskette of unknown origin that hasn't been completely wiped clean, and make a Be OS boot disk out of it. Unbeknownsed to you it contains a virus. If you use the disk to boot Be OS, the virus promptly copies itself to the hard drive and executes before the OS does. In fact in a Windows environment these viruses execute even before MS-DOS! It then begins to do its dastardly duty and erases your hard drive. A very unpleasant occurrence for the end-user, to say the least, but absolutely disastrous for a special effects or a desktop publishing company.

There are quite a few different types of viruses currently existing. They include File, Boot Sector/Partition Table, Trojan Horse, Stealth, and Polymorphic viruses. The Stealth virus is quite interesting. This clever little devil can hide its tracks by removing its code from an infected file. It resides in memory and when an anti-virus program attempts to scan an infected file it immediately erases its virus code. When the anti-virus finishes scanning, the virus replaces the offending code. The sophistication of modern viruses requires the same sophistication from virus detectors. Today most anti-virus solutions don't simply compare a list of known viruses when scanning a system. On top of this capability they also have advanced techniques designed to monitor the activities of software. This allows unknown viruses to be detected by their actions instead of just their code. It is therefore possible, and a very good idea, to pro-actively implement some kind of virus protection system in the Be OS now--before an outbreak occurs and this beloved OS becomes forever remembered as: "You know ... that OS that was always getting viruses."

The Be OS' sophisticated technology will give more areas for virus writers to experiment with. Since under the Be OS hardware can be addressed directly, viruses have the potential to be an even greater problem than on some other OSes. It's a double edged sword: technology can create problems that require even more technology to over come.

If you would like to protect your dual-boot Be OS system now get a good Windows or Mac anti-virus program. Until Be OS-specific software is developed to countract Be OS-specific viruses, they should protect you from platform agnostic virii. More information on viruses can be found on the web-sites of major anti-virus solutions providers and by doing a general search on the web.

David Choi can be reached at dharric@yahoo.com.

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