The New Hot Zone

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Steve White met his first computer virus in 1987. It came in through his company's internal e-mail system as a program innocuously named Christma Exec. As he watched it run on a colleague's computer screen, all it seemed to do was draw a picture of a fir tree. Big deal.

What White and his coworkers didn't know then but what they found out soon enough was that while they were looking at that cheesy little line drawing, the program was surreptitiously copying and sending itself to every person they had ever e-mailed. Then those recipients would open it, look at the line drawing and begin the cycle anew. Since this was IBM, which then had one of the largest concentrations of networked computers in the world, it didn't take long for the company network to be swamped by copies of the Christma Exec virus.

By the time someone got on the p.a. system and issued an alert, it was too late: The mail system finally crashed, buried under the weight of too many self-replicating messages.

"Ah!" said White. "The world just changed." MORE >>