A critical evaluation of the destructive impact of computer viruses on files stored by personal computer users
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Computer virus programs are generally perceived to be a threat to the information stored by computer users. This research evaluated the impact computer viruses have on information stored by computer users. The emphasis was on the effects of computer viruses rather than on the detail of their operation. The main hypotheses involved the question of whether or not computer viruses do pose a threat to the information stored by computer users. The effect of computer viruses on the information of users in industry was measured by sending a questionnaire to 388 companies country-wide. &~ average of 2l,5% of the respondents claimed detrimental effects to information stored on disk due to computer viruses. This and other data was used to guide laboratory experiments on the actual damage done by computer viruses to stored information. A set of test disks was prepared to represent programs and data of a typical PC user in industry. Fifteen different virus programs were used individually to infect the test disks. After each infection, all the test disks were inspected to ascertain damage to data, system and program files as well as to separate disk sectors. The research established that: The damage done by computer viruses to stored information is generally limited to one file or disk area. Where damage to stored information did occur, it was often reversible. Irrational user responses to virus symptoms provide a large potential source for damage to stored information. The availability of master program disks (for program file restoration) and recent, validated data backup is essential to recovery from a computer virus infection. A user can solve most problems caused by virus infections if he has a basic understanding of disk structure, i.e. tracks, sectors, sides, the FAT, etc, and of the use of disk utility programs like Norton Utilities or PCTools. The fact that some of the findings of prominent virus researchers could not be verified, suggests that virus programs could be unstable. Claims regarding the damage inflicted by viruses must be considered to be valid only for a specific copy of the virus under discussion. The importance of using original application software (to minimize the transfer of viruses and to enable program file restoration) , regular back-ups (to enable data file restoration) and basic user awareness (infection prevention, symptoms, the use of anti-viral and utility programs, etc.) was emphasized. The average PC user should be able to clear up a virus infection without assistance by following the given disinfection procedure. Suggestions for further study include virus origins, generations, mutations, multiple infections, and the effect of viruses on computer networks.