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6.3.1992: “Michelangelo” Computer Virus
On 6 March 1992, that’s exactly what happened. Because Michelangelo was born on 6 March, the virus was named after him.

The first sign of the virus’ existence surfaced on 4 February 1991 at an Australian computer shop in Melbourne. After installing a program, the retailer noticed a large number of strange symbols on the monitor. He had this checked and found that he had unwittingly loaded a virus on to the system. It became active on 6 March and went on to overwrite the hard drive.

No one ever found out who wrote the virus. In contrast to natural viruses, computer viruses are programs written by people which aim to damage the computer, its programs or the data. It is presumed that the Michelangelo virus was written in Taiwan, but there was never any conclusive proof of this. What became clear was that it destroys the boot sector of disks, which, in turn, leads to the destruction of data on the disk and the hard drive of the computer.

Because the danger was recognised in time, “Michelangelo” failed to have any discernible consequences in the year of its discovery. Over time, the virus spread beyond Australia’s borders and ended up being published worldwide. Studies in Europe showed that the virus was mainly spread via driver disks for computer hardware from East Asia and, as March 6 1992 approached, a heightening hysteria prevailed among computer owners and users.

Although PCs were not nearly as widespread as today, there was a great rush for virus detectors and virus protection programs. Computer shops offered these programs free-of-charge as did higher education institutions. The University of Hamburg counted over 20,000 requests for such programs in the weeks leading up to 6 March 1992.

Up until “D-day”, 1,300 computers in the Federal Republic were affected by the “Michelangelo virus”, but experts reckon the real number to be 10 times higher. Nobody knows how many PCs were affected worldwide. It is known that the virus caused the loss of data on around 1,500 computers in Germany.

“Michelangelo” was not the first computer virus, but it was the first to make the general public aware of the havoc that viruses can cause. This event gave rise to a veritable anti-virus industry and it is frequently suspected that virus programs are written and circulated by people who subsequently write and sell the matching anti-virus program. In specialist circles, the authors of these viruses are deemed to be highly gifted individuals with a craving for publicity.

The “Michelangelo” virus has long gone – not only because suitable prevention and rescue measures have been developed, but also because it was almost exclusively spread via the old 5.5 inch floppy disks which are no longer in use.

The spread of computer viruses has drastically increased however, mainly over the internet. The appeal of writing new programs has not diminished either. At present (status: 2000) there are 40,000 known computer viruses – twice as many as two years ago.
   
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