Melissa, the Web’s virtual virus

(U-WIRE) LINCOLN, Neb. – Back in 1992, the Melissa virus would have passed by mostly unnoticed except by a handful of people concerned with computers and some members of the media trying to get America to care.

Don’t laugh and pass it off as impossible, because it happened, more or less.

In 1992, in the middle of February, the whispers began rippling through the computer geeks, a word on their lips, a name: Michelangelo.

On March 6, Michelangelo’s birthday, the virus would systematically erase the entire hard drive of the infected computer. On that day, thousands of computers lay powerless, as their users fretted nervously that their machines might be infected.

For one day, much of the computer world lay silent.

Days later, a disinfectant would slowly begin to seep around the Internet and the Michelangelo virus would fade into anonymity. Many would forget its name, and many of those whose lives were not touched by computers never even knew the virus existed.

Fast forward to 1999, as a virus known as the Melissa virus combs over the ‘Net like wildfire, infecting computer after computer. Servers are shut down and the virus distributes itself to 50 people if certain conditions are met.

And the media is going to make sure you’re aware of it and what you can do about it.

In 1992, the Internet was still growing, just in its toddler phase, taking its baby steps if you will. In 1999, the Internet is running like a teenager who just got the keys to the car for the first time. Where once the Internet was something almost no one used; now if you’re not on the ‘Net, you’re out of touch.

The former realm of hackers and nerds has been opened up to soccer moms, single parents and upper-class business folk who are still learning that there isn’t an “Any” key on a keyboard. With the influx of people comes a new breed of students.

It’s good to see the media is catering to the people who use a tool they barely understand, simplifying it down and helping them see into the basic premise of the problem. Computer awareness is increasing. People are learning that a computer is more like a car than a television.

People are no longer afraid to learn about the machines that once intimidated them and that’s the first big step. Sure, the computer world isn’t as simple as it could be, but the more you know, the more dangerous you are.

That’s one lesson the hackers will be more than happy to share.

-Staff editorial from the University of Nebraska’s Daily Nebraskan.

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