June 1996 

'Good Times' Was Just the Beginning...

The Great Virus Hoax

WHAT'S THE BIGGEST hoax in the PC universe? That's easy - the idea that computer viruses pose a widespread threat to PC users.

The truth is that viruses in general are no more dangerous to the average PC user than the so-called "Good Times" virus, which is entirely fictitious.

Some PC viruses are real, of course, but then so are rare diseases like myasthenia gravis. If you're unfortunate enough to be stricken with myasthenia gravis, it's a very important issue to you, but that doesn't make the disease a public health hazard.

In fact, 99.99 percent of the world's population can safely live their entire lives without ever giving myasthenia gravis a moment's thought, let alone taking steps to protect themselves against it.

The same applies to PC viruses. Here's an indication of just how statistically insignificant PC viruses are to the general computing public. During the last 18 months, BugNet has received approximately 10,000 bug reports. During this same period, we have received less than 100 reports of viruses.

Many people confuse bugs and viruses because the symptoms can be similar, but their causes are very different. Viruses are the result of digital sabotage by rogue individuals, while bugs are the product of faulty programming by the various software and hardware manufacturers.

Based on our statistics, bugs are at least 100 times worse threat to the average PC user than viruses. And this is borne out by experience. The average PC user may encounter bugs of some sort every day they use a PC, but never encounter a virus in their entire computing career.

Obviously, if you are in a particularly high risk group - like public network administrators or people who frequent gay baths - you should protect yourself, but for most people it's simply not an issue they need to worry about too much.

SO WHY DO you constantly see ads and stories in the computer press trumpeting the virus threat?

The answer to this question tells a great deal about both the computer industry, and human psychology in general.

The reason that Cheyenne, McAfee and Symantec flog the virus threat is that viruses are a source of revenue for them.

Bugs, by comparison, are an expense. They appear on the opposite side of the ledger because the cure for buggy PC products is better design, better programming, better testing - all of which costs money, and subtracts from the bottom line instead of adding to it.

If software vendors could figure out how to commercialize the bug problem, we'd be inundated with slick commercial messages about the bug threat. Then the commercial computer press would suddenly discover the obvious and offer endless thumb-suckers on the subject.

Until that day, though, we'll just have to make do with profitable deceptions like the myth of the virus threat.

- B.B.

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