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It’s difficult to think of anything else right now than the coronavirus. We shouldn’t. However, we can see how this virus is similar with another type of virus: namely, computer malware viruses.
The Word “Virus”
The Latin word for virus, which we use in English, is derived from a Latin word that means “slimy liquid poison or poisonous secretion” and was first used in late Middle English to describe the venom of a serpent. In medieval times, it was used to refer to the discharge from a wound or ulcer. The term “virus” was then extended to describe the bodily substances that cause the infectious diseases. Edward Jenner published in 1799 his discovery that the “cowpox virus” could be used to prevent smallpox.
As biological science progressed, the term “virus” became more precise to describe tiny infectious agents that replicate in living cells. Electronic microscopes enabled scientists to see viruses for their first time in the 1930s. This was the beginning of the new field of “virology”. Since then, scientists have continued to identify new biological viruses and to name them. In 1968, the journal Nature published the first widespread report on coronaviruses. They are named so because the fringe around the virus, when seen through an electron microscope, resembles the corona from the sun.
A biological virus, such as COVID-19, is an agent that reproduces within a cell. A virus infects a cell and takes control of its operation, making it a virtual factory that can make more copies. The virus forces the cell to make thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of identical copies of its original virus very quickly. For example, the polio virus can create more than one million copies within one infected human cell. Biologists often claim that viruses exist to create more viruses.
The virus that causes the disease is a major concern in today’s world. The virus has been named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses “SARS-CoV-2”, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The World Health Organization has named the virus-related disease “COVID-19” (short for coronavirus disease 2019).
Let’s now turn our attention to computer viruses.
A computer virus is malicious code that reproduces on the same computer as its biological counterpart. A computer virus is a malicious computer code that reproduces itself (or an evolved copy) without human intervention.
Computer viruses: A little history
David Gerrold, a science-fiction author, wrote “When HARLIE was One” in 1972. This novel imagined a computer virus program that replicated itself just like biological viruses. In 1982, the Apple II was infected with one of the first viruses. Rich Skrenta, a ninth grade student from Pittsburgh, wrote “Elk Cloner,” a poem that displayed on the screen after 50 consecutive uses of infected floppy drives. Unfortunately, the virus spread and got onto Skrenta’s computer. Dr. Frederick Cohen, a mathematician, introduced the term “computervirus” two years later. He used a recommendation by his advisor and came up with the name after reading Gerrold’s science fiction novel.
Computer viruses can infect almost all computers by inserting themselves into computer files, either executable program files or user-created data files. A program virus is a virus that infects executable program files. The virus activates when the program is launched. A virus can also be part a data file. A macro virus is the most common. It is a collection of instructions that can be combined into a single command. Macros are often used to automate complex tasks or repeating tasks. The macro instructions will execute once the document has been opened.
Computer viruses were first to attach or append themselves to infected files. The virus then added a jump instruction to the file’s beginning. This instructed it to point to the file’s end, which is where the virus code is located. The jump instruction directed control to the virus when the program was launched. These types of viruses can be detected by virus scanners fairly easily. Viruses today are so sophisticated that they can be difficult to detect.
They are so ugly! How can we get rid of them! Let’s take a look at COVID-19, and then combine it with computer terminology and computer virus.
How can we rid ourselves of viruses?
All attempts to eradicate viruses (called “viral therapy”) face a fundamental challenge. Most viruses only have a few genes. They rely on proteins in the cells infected (called the “host cell”) to perform many of their functions.
Another type of virus
[Reading Time – 6 minutes and 8 seconds]