Are 'Good' Computer Viruses Still a Bad Idea?

Essay by Anonymous UserUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, November 1995

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During the past six years, computer viruses have caused unaccountable amount of damage - mostly due to loss of time

and resources. For most users, the term 'computer virus' is a synonym of the worst nightmares that can happen on

their system. Yet some well-known researchers keep insisting that it is possible to use the replication mechanism of

the viral programs for some useful and beneficial purposes.

This paper is an attempt to summarize why exactly the general public appreciates computer viruses as something

inherently bad. It is also considering several of the proposed models of 'beneficial' viruses and points out the

problems in them. A set of conditions is listed, which every virus that claims to be beneficial must conform to. At last,

a realistic model using replication techniques for beneficial purposes is proposed and directions are given in which

this technique can be improved further.

The paper also demonstrates that the main reason for the conflict between those supporting the idea of a 'beneficial

virus' and those opposing it, is that the two sides are assuming a different definition of what a computer virus is.

1. What Is a Computer Virus?

The general public usually associates the term 'computer virus' with a small, nasty program, which aims to destroy the

information on their machines. As usual, the general public's understanding of the term is incorrect. There are many

kinds of destructive or otherwise malicious computer programs and computer viruses are only one of them. Such

programs include backdoors, logic bombs, trojan horses and so on [Bontchev94]. Furthermore, many computer

viruses are not intentionally destructive - they simply display a message, play a tune, or even do nothing noticeable at

all. The important thing, however, is that even those not intentionally destructive viruses are not harmless - they are...