There have been talks and debates as to the extent to which a malicious code or virus can affect the computer hardware.
I am aware of the fact that many people have had cause to believe that viruses really destroy hardware especially the hard drive or the BIOS chip!
I disagree entirely in principle to this notion and I intend to raise the arguments for, and against this technically inclined issue so that you can judge for yourself.
As I seek to dissect this myth, I know we can all learn something new from this very important issue [I hope this article would not be too technical, I would not be making myself clear by not invoking some basic jargon]
The Virus effect
When your computer is infected with a virus and your data is corrupted, is the hardware at risk? (I will not explain the types of Viruses and their effects here since they can be ‘goggled’)
Computer virus is a term applied to any program that is designed to damage data stored on a computer system or network. The virus may infect documents, applications or worst of all system files that are essential to the correct running of the computer system.
A virus itself is program software and has effect basically on software and not hardware. It could have effect on the systems or Application software to execute specific instructions on the hardware.
People argue that the Virus can affect hardware, because some viruses executed, the computer can shut down, restart, even open the CD ROM tray or manipulate other peripherals like the Keyboard! Of course they do, but technically they do not operate on them as you would want to think they do, they instruct the software or the respective peripheral drivers to perform.
So should those software or device drivers not be installed on the System, the virus could be redundant on the System whilst the hardware exist.
There are instances when upgrades from previous system or application software versions have ‘paralyzed’ viruses to malfunction on target computers. Should viruses have effect on hardware; open CD ROM tray, shut down Computers etc., they should do those when the software is upgraded so long as the hardware exist.
What happens is, they are unable to be compatible with the new upgrades signature to make them execute those instructions. I once rendered a computer useless, I asked the user to replace the motherboard of the PC if he still wants to use it because a virus have erased the BIOS and displays some funny characters after which it hung. I was stunned.
What BIOS Does
The BIOS is not a hardware, Basic Input Output Settings are sets of permanent instruction
Without the BIOS, the Computer cannot function since the Processor on its own does not get to the Hard disk where the Operating System is residing. It is the BIOS which provides the instructions for the POST (power-on self-test).Of course it is the same BIOS that oversee that other chips (Hard drives, Memory, CPU) functions together.
The BIOS Controls the entire functionality of the motherboard. You can imagine! Should a virus get to the BIOS and erase the BIOS instructions. Think about it!
The Computer would be dead. Don’t get me wrong, the BIOS is not hardware; it is a setting or set of instruction programmed by the computer manufacture.
Coming to Basics
When a BIOS is corrupted, does it mean a hardware (Motherboard, Hard drive, BIOS Chip) is damaged? or a software instruction failure! Unfortunately there was little i could do once upon a time and I rendered a Pentium III Computer useless. The motherboard had to be replaced because the BIOS has been erased by a virus. The currents on the bus was flowing and all other hardware components such as heat sink and fan and power on lead were on but the Computer was dead!
The fact of the matter is that the BIOS Component on some early motherboards with low processor speed (486, Pentium I, II, III) was on board or embedded( on the mother board) so when they are erased by a virus it could not be recovered and you have to replace the motherboard, since the bios could not be retrieved and programmed on separately inmost places.
Today, nearly all computers manufactured have their BIOS specially designed on Chips based on flash technology which are detached to the motherboard.
The essence of the detachable BIOS Chip is specifically designed to allow the BIOS (which are set of instructions) to be backed up, repaired and analyzed when corrupted or damaged.
These days manufactures have listed for download online, BIOS updates and utilities http://www.wimsbios.com/biosupdates.jsp and it’s making it very useful to bring computers back to life when virus affects the BIOS which was not so some time back, and ignorantly people kept on saying ‘virus has crashed my Computer’, There are also BIOS kits designed to redeem your computer. Since the BIOS is not a hardware, the manufacturer provides software to recover them whiles the chip is still intact.
One known virus that corrupts the Computer BIOS is the Chernobyl virus or the CIH Virus and this has been designed to corrupt older Windows 9x (95, 98, Me) operating systems. In the later part of 1998 the KILL_CIH tool was released by Symantec as the antidote.
Indeed, there would not be a need for a virus removal tool, an anti virus, an antidote, because they don’t repair hardware. Ironically all known Virus have got some sort of antidote even the CIH Virus which erases the BIOS.
I base this argument solely on the Microsoft Windows platform because viruses are platform based, i.e. A Symbian OS, Windows OS, Linux OS, MacOS Virus cannot be transferred to the other to execute.
So the question again, can a virus damage the hardware?