Friday, 6 July 2007

What does a computer virus look like?

If you've never seen a computer virus you might be wondering what one looks like. If Hollywood movies are to believed, they are pretty exciting with lots of virtual reality interfaces and 3D graphics.

In reality, and on the surface, a virus might appear in your email as an attachment, perhaps pretending to be an image or a security update from Microsoft. So that innocent-looking icon is one way that computer viruses can appear to the human eye.
But wouldn't it be more interesting to look beyond the image of an icon and see what it looks like under the hood?

Virus researchers use tools like Interactive Disassembler Pro (IDA) to reverse engineer malware. So you could argue that a virus looks like this program's output, as below:

This might be an accurate view, but it's not very exciting. I can't see this appearing in The Matrix IV. Anti-virus company F-Secure has developed a new tool that provides a pretty amazing, movie-style view of the effects a virus has on a computer system. The view below illustrates it. Add a pumping soundtrack and a 3D version of Bruce Willis and you've got Die Hard 5.1 (build 366478).

Read about (and visualise) more viruses and other threats.