THE ULTIMATE VIRUS KILLER BOOK
1 - PROLOGUE
It was Sunday, November 22nd 1987. A chilly autumn wind was
blowing outside, sweeping the fallen leaves aside as if in an
attempt to corrupt nature. The moon was barely visible beyond the
layers of clouds that hastened across the night sky. The street
was still wet with the rain that had only just before scorched
the land in a torrent of water. It was about 01:00 AM in Helmond,
a town in the Southern part of the Netherlands.
Heavenly Yngwie Malmsteen guitar solos were brought flying
through the attic room by an over-zealous amplifier as if trying
to humble the sounds of nature outside, when some late-at-night
word processing for the international multi-media disk magazine
"ST NEWS" had to be interrupted to answer the phone.
Who had the sheer nerve to call at this utterly unholy hour?
Good thing my father had not yet heard it ringing, for otherwise
he would probably have hastily retrieved all his World War II
souvenirs, mistaking the sound for the local air raid alarm. This
would then most likely have resulted in the total obliteration of
the house, my eardrums, the computer and the telephone, not to
mention the Malmsteen record.
So when I picked up the horn I was in a bit of a vile mood. It
was suppressed, however, as I was totally baffled to hear an
extremely excited bloke at the other end of the line. It was a
German guy called Klaus, and Klaus wasn't making a lot of sense.
He spoke of computer viruses, obliteration of data and, well,
utter chaos. I tried to interrupt his rantings but to no avail.
All I could make up from his rather cacophonic flood of words was
that, apparently, the computer virus phenomenon had now also
reared its ugly head on our beloved Atari ST.
Having been only vaguely familiar with regular biological
viruses (I was at the time preparing to start my abortive study
of Biology at Utrecht University), I scratched my head in what
must have been a rather stupid way and suggested the possibility
of him taking a deep breath to repeat everything again in a
somewhat more orderly fashion.
Klaus still did not sound anything near orderly and even went as
far as to tell me that my whole software collection would
probably have been 'infected', that a lot of tracks on my disks
would likely already have been 'spontaneously formatted' and
that, worst of the lot, all my software could be considered lost.
Since I am one of those thoroughbred southern Dutch sober guys -
the kind that even remains in total control of everything when
urinating against an electrified fence - I decided to tell Klaus
that I would investigate the matter further as soon as possible.
This basically meant 'first thing in the morning', actually,
because sleep was crawling up on me mercilessly. So after laying
down the phone I lay down myself, too, and payed a long visit to
the place where fierce dragons are fought, fantastic computer
games are played and positively brainboggling experiences
involving scantily clad members of the opposite sex can be had.
As usual during most weekends, I overslept. But once I had
seated myself in front of my ST and started examining my disks
with Michtron's "Mutil", a disk monitor program, I became really
concerned. Even though Klaus seemed to have exaggerated a little,
I still turned out to have about 20 disks that had something
present on their bootsectors. Most likely these were infected by
this mysterious computer virus, but I was quite at a loss as to
what to do.
Should I throw away the disks? Lock them up and throw away the
key? Would I need to wear surgical gloves? Or might that not even
be enough? What would happen, or what would have happened
already, to the valuable data and programming material I had
present on some of the infected disks?
It may be safe to conclude that I started to panic a little, so
I gathered together what wits I had left and called my good
friend Frank Lemmen (at that time co-conspirator of the disk
magazine "ST NEWS" mentioned earlier, now employed at a highly
successful Dutch wholesale computer retailer's) and told him
everything I had learned so far. There wasn't much to tell,
actually, but it triggered in him a need to start delving deeper
into the problem right away.
That 'historical' Sunday evening, we took the virus off an
infected bootsector, disassembled it in memory and started to
examine its code. We used what limited knowledge we had to
determine what it could and couldn't do, and devised a means to
end its hitherto unchecked spreading. That day, November 22nd
1987, Frank wrote the first Dutch virus killer, "4USKILL.PRG",
which was uploaded to several major Bulletin Board Systems in the
Netherlands that very night. Since we also thought that official
people should be warned, Atari Benelux was contacted the next
Back in the end of 1987 nothing much was known about these
little tumours of computer science. The Atari user base was an
easy victim, slow and ponderous like a dinosaur infected by a
potentially lethal form of influenza. But soon there was the
beginning of a growing sense of awareness with regard to the
computer virus phenomenon, a kind of battle against their
spreading that is raging still and has yet to show signs of
abating. Over the years a tremendous amount of information has
been gathered and the user base is no longer the gullible
dinosaur of old.
What are computer viruses? What can they do? What can't they do?
Why do people make them? Why is such a load of nonsense written
about them? Which bits are nonsense, actually, and, pray, which
bits hold a grain of truth then? When did the first viruses
occur? What is the question to which the answer is 'forty-two'?
In this "Ultimate Virus Killer Book" it will be attempted to
give answers to all of these questions - well, except maybe for
the last one - as well as many more that may just have crossed
When reading this book, however, you may notice that it is quite
different from most other computer-related publications in
general. After having read many of these books concerning viruses
myself, it was hard not to conclude that they were filled with
much irrelevant information and that they were too difficult, too
theoretical, outdated, partly based on rumours, horribly MS-DOS
specific (even those that claimed to be for Atari users) and
sometimes rather ethically astray what with them more often than
not supplying the reader with ready-to-use information on how to
conceive viruses instead of concentrating on their annihilation.
All these books had been written by incredibly capable computer
science boffins, some of which had more degrees behind their name
than you could shake a knobbly stick at. It seemed as though
their writings were meant solely for them to become accepted
among their peers in the world of computer science, for them to
be quoted in further books about the subject and generally to be
regarded as experts in the field. These aims they have achieved
brilliantly, of course. They have written precise definitions of
all kinds of viruses with all possible theories that could
possibly have something to do with the phenomenon. This will
surely have acquired them a name to be heard echoing perpetually
through the computer scientists' hall of fame. However, they have
nearly all missed out on something important; they all missed the
conviction that is found among people who have written and
supported a virus killer over an extended period of time, who
have supported the battle against viruses in real life and who
have communicated often with people who have had problems with
these particularly nasty things. In other words, they have missed
out a bit on the practical side of things.
I am not a computer boffin, but nonetheless I hope that I will
have succeeded in achieving the aim I had when setting out to
write this book. That aim was to supply the everyday computer
user with information that he may need, and making all people
aware of the fact that viruses exist, that they are potentially
dangerous and, even more importantly, that one should never panic
because something can be done to get rid of them successfully!
What you are about to read is no mere academic summary of facts
and theories, not by a very lengthy long shot! In this book,
viruses and their history in general will be elaborated upon
extensively, whereas background stories about the joys and
agonies penetrating a virus killer programmer's life will also be
told in between the slightly more technical proceedings.
After you've read this book, you should be able to know your way
through the labyrinth presented by many discussions and articles
about viruses - and, more importantly, you should be able to tell
pure nonsense from what is not. In that case my goal will have
To decrease the panic factor even more, you will discover the
existence of a piece of software that is ideal for use alongside
this book - the "Ultimate Virus Killer" program, usable on all
Atari ST, STE, STM, STFM, ST+, MEGA ST, TT, MEGA STE, ST Book,
STacy and Falcon systems with any monitor, double sided disk
drive and any memory configuration (although a minimum of 1 Mb is
preferred). It will prove a handy aid to help you get rid of
those little viral pains in your computer's posterior!
I hope you will not only find this book useful and interesting,
but also an entertaining read,
Utrecht, July 11th 1995
P.S. It should be noted that the term "Atari ST" or "ST" is often
used, but that it usually encompasses the entire Atari range
of TOS computers. That includes TT, Falcon and what have