Comparative Internet Virology.

Viruses are nothing but condensed packages of information, whose form of existence is no different that the existence of an architectural drawing, or an electrical diagram of a radio, a pharmacological or cooking recipe, or the plans for a helicopter or jet plane. These packs are made up of elements of varying physical nature, which by themselves, mean nothing at all. A dot on an architectural drawing means nothing, and neither does a line on an electrical drawing or a chemical bond in a virus crystal. It is the relative configuration of elements that is most important, and only in  situation in which the virus or plan can be realized. 

Viruses though, are different from the other previously mentioned packets of information, in that they also have the 'will to exist and reproduce'. Similarly to the selfish gene, they do all that they can to exist, they are willing to make internal changes, reconstruct themselves, all in order to survive and incorporate into their sphere of influence as much as possible components of the world in which they exist. As far as I know, architectural plans do not show this kind of stubbornness, however I am not entirely sure. It would be worthwhile to carry out a study on the staying power of architectural styles and fashions. 

In this sense, regarding a virus as a dead entity, is a misunderstanding. It is very alive, but only in its own environment. Just like a fish is alive in the sea, where it uses a whole catalog of ecological parameters, a virus is alive in a cell, where is has all of the metabolic machinery at its disposal. 

And here we come to the point of comparative internet virology. Just like an animal or plant virus is composed of atoms aligned in space in such a form that allows its recreation as long as a set of conditions are met, an internet virus is composed of a sequence of impulses. In the proper environment, they too 'come alive', recreate, and change the information environment around them. For an unlimited time, they can be frozen in the form of sequences on some sort of carrier, for example on a magnetic disk, or written down on a piece of paper, or a laser printed disk. In the same way that a virus can exist in a crystal form, or a physical model, or a written down chemical structure. 

Viruses transferred to an entirely different environment do not have any virological sense. A solution of tobacco mosaic virus can be used as meat sauce if we happen to like the taste, the sequence of the code of SoBig can be easily transformed into a melody and listening to it will not bring us any harm, even if there is a computer in the room (I wonder if anyone has ever done this - its probably easier to hear the dangerous parts, rather than to decode them..).

There is also some spiciness in this comparative Internet virology of a theological or theobiological character. It is assumed that biological viruses were created spontaneously, just as all that is created by the 'Blind Watchmaker', that is Nature. I have never heard of the spontaneous creation of a computer virus. The creator is always a higher being compared to a computer, i.e. a human. But it is likely to only be a matter of time. Theoretically, there is nothing stopping a computer program from mutating as a result of mutagenic factors such as an unexpected interruption of power during the saving of a file or a deformation of a disk. 

One can ask whether there can be a 'good' virus. There most probably can, but it must be created by a good doing higher being, and it would appear that there is a shortage of such people in the computer world. Medicine, virology and molecular biology have all made huge progress in the last few years in terms of recognition, rejection and destruction of viruses. Should we not be enlisting the help of these specialists in the war against Internet viruses?

An entirely different question is the psychology, or motivation of these 'higher beings' that generate Internet viruses. However this is another topic altogether which concerns the dark side of human nature - the tendency of human being to do pointless harm.

(in the background and ORF virus as seen in EM - with small modification..)



(C) (selected from publications of 
 R. Antoszewski

Titirangi, Auckland, 
New Zeland

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February  2003