Editor's note: the following is a tongue-in-cheek, oftenirreverent, question and answer column published in the ASMP News solelyfor the entertainment of our readers. It does not necessarily reflect theviews of ASMP, the local chapter or other ASMP members. All opinions andanswers are solely those of the author, and he is welcome to them.

Readers' questions about any aspect of photography, or life ingeneral, are welcome and Dr. Photography will answer them in future columns,if he happens to feel like it. Send mail to:
Dear Dr. Photography

Dear Dr. Photography,

I am just entering the digital side of photographyand am scared by computer viruses. I am told they can actually kill a computerand that they work just like a deadly human virus. Is this true and howdo I keep my new (expensive) computer from getting the disease?

Hypochondriac in Hayward


DP: Computer viruses have been aroundfor a number of years now. They are created intentionally by humans, generallyrogue programmers or mischievous hackers, who attempt to inflate their ownegos by causing unexpected occurrences in the computers of others. Someof these viruses are relatively harmless -- causing, in one case, a simplegreeting to appear on screen. Others are far more destructive and are actuallydesigned to cause the infected computer to destroy its own data files. Asyet, programmers have been unable to create a virus that can actually causea computer to rewire itself or cause physical destruction. So, while virusescan destroy data, they are not capable of actually "killing" yourmachine.

Computer viruses are similar to biological viruses in the fact that theyare spread by host contact. If you exchange disks with other computer userswhose systems are infected, your computer is likely to get their virus.Accessing infected computer systems via modem can also result in infection.On extremely rare occasions, software publishers have unknowingly releasedinfected software disks in their new software packages.

As a doctor and recognized expert in the field, Dr. Photography recommendsthe following preventative measures:

The most effective virus prevention is abstention. If you never removeyour new computer from its box, leaving it sealed within the cardboard andplastic casings, you can rest assured that it will never get a computervirus. While this solution may seem a bit boring, you can at least stilltell your friends "yeah, I've got one of those new Mac Dodecas with128 gig of RAM sitting in my office... and I am immune to virus infection."

Secondly, practice safe computing. Do not exchange software or data diskswith other computer users. Notice that every new floppy disk comes in itsown plastic sleeve. This sleeve is affectionately known as a disk condom.If you must share disks with other computers, always use a disk condom.If you keep it on your disk when you insert it in the drive, you may geta few read/write errors and perhaps a crashed drive head, but you're fairlywell protected against virus infection.

Compute monogamously. If you compute around with every Mac, DOS or Amigain town, or if you're a regular customer of online services, you're likelyto find yourself with a virus before you can say "gamma globulin."If you have a computing partner, it is safest for you both to keep yourcomputing relationship monogamous. That way, there is less chance for infectionto occur from others. Keep in mind that there is no evidence of any increasedrisk in homocomputer, heterocomputer or any other category of computer relationships.You are no less at risk computing Mac-to-Mac, than you are IBM-to-Amiga,Mac-to-Mini or with the entire North American Defense network.

Finally, readers should be aware of an ominous development for computerusers everywhere. Underground researchers at a major institution in NewEngland recently announced the development of a computer pheromone. Pheromones,in the biological world, are chemical substances produced by animals asa stimulus to other individuals of the same species for one or more behavioralresponses. They are the chemicals which drive every male dog within a quartermile crazy when a female is in heat, and the substances that cause thousandsof ants to invade your kitchen after a lone worker discovered last night'sleftover cheesecake on your counter.

Computer pheromones are not quite as threatening as computer viruses,since they can only stimulate computers of the same type and only when inproximity with one another. Their effect is basically to cause your computerto continuously check its SCSI and serial ports for input or output. Thisresults in your computer sitting around in a lethargic, sort of lovelorn,state until connection with the affecting computer can be made. Once connectionoccurs, however, viral infections are free to pass.

Pheromone prevention is accomplished simply by moving the two computersinto a less proximate range. Also, the effects of a computer pheromone canbe minimized by never having two computers of the same kind operating neareach other. This is one instance where it is to your advantage to mix yourMacs with IBMs, Hewlett Packards and Sun Workstations.

Next month, we'll discuss the best SCSI ports in California and whereto meet them.

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©1993 Scott Highton
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