Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Lib Dem computer virus

I need a (brief) break from blogging about the misery of the Welfare Reform Bill all the time. So I am proud to present the Lib Dem Computer Virus (patent pending). If you click on that link you'll be able to download it. If you double click it, and ignore the security warning, you'll be able to see exactly what it does - but don't worry, it won't damage your computer and you can close it by clicking the exit button in the top right hand corner box that pops up (this "virus" only works on Windows computers by the way).

And, to be honest, technically it's not a virus at all. Let me explain.

I'm studying (what is essentially) electronic engineering at university. This involves learning programming. I'm currently on a placement year working in industry as part of my degree and my job also involves quite a bit of programming.

And it was at work that I learn about something called "scripts". Basically, back in the old days, computers were a lot more basic - there wasn't Windows or Mac OS or anything like that. Instead people had to tell computers what to do by directly typing commands into it - nowadays we just click on buttons. That legacy of typing in commands directly still exists in modern computers in the form of something called the Command Prompt. This is a little screen you can open up to type in commands directly, just as people used to do in the old days.

A script is a type of file which sends what's written in it directly to the Command Prompt. So this way you can write a whole sequence of commands in a script and then double click on the file to run them all at once.

Scripts were used to write the very first major computer virus - it was a script which looked like a text file entitled "LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.txt" sent to people in emails. When people opened it then emailed itself to random email contacts of the people who opened it. Of course, other script based viruses can be a lot more sophisticated - for example, they can tell your computer to delete all the files you've got saved on it.

Fortunately nowadays computer security is much better and email companies block script files and computers warn people about what they are before running them. Unfortunately, the people who write viruses have also become a lot more sophisticated in their techniques. In fact, the kind of people who use scripts in computer hacking nowadays are rather looked down upon within the hacking community and referred to as "script kiddies" - which is a derogatory term. They're looked down upon because they use scripts and other fairly simple to use hacking tools which have been put together by other people. In short, they're looked down upon because they don't have any particular skill of their own and also because they usually haven't got a clue about what they're doing or how what they're doing works - they just do it for the thrill of vandalism and the reputation it gives them among their peers.

That's the stereotype of course. Hackers, incidentally, are a lot different from the standard media stereotype - most people think of criminal hackers as the kind of people who break into things and steal money or destroy things via computers. But a lot of hackers are the kind of people normally viewed as the "good guys" - such as  computer security experts. And there are also the hackers who simply hack computer systems for the challenge of pitting themselves against the systems - of getting behind the simple interface that most people see and into the bare bones of the computers behind them. And a lot of the people who were non-malicious, non-law breaking hackers are the same people who laid the foundation of modern computer technology - Bill Gates is one such example.

Then there are the people who hack hardware or software, such as their own computers, to push them to the limit - to go beyond the built in restrictions and see exactly how far the hardware or software can be pushed before it breaks and gives up. For example, there are some people who've managed to turn a standard computer mouse into a barcode scanner - and the only reason they did it was for the fun of it. It's a subculture basically and hopefully I've given you a bit of an insight into it.

But back to the Lib Dem computer virus. What it is is one of the scripts I talked about. When you run it it should pop up a window and spout Lib Dem propaganda at you and ask you to press any key to continue. After you've done that twice then it loops back to the beginning. It's fairly basic and fairly simple and really isn't a virus at all as it depends on you choosing to run it. I do think it's pretty cool though - which gives you an idea as to how much of a nerd I am.

Pictured: Unashamed nerdery

If I wanted to I could also alter it to do more irritating things - such as asking you if you're a Lib Dem and shutting down your computer if you say no. And there are also things that can be done to prevent you from closing the script and hiding it so that you've got no idea that it's there. I've got no interest in finding out how to do that though - my only interest in scripts is to use them as an occasional cludge or temporary fix in programming.

And, as thanks for making it this far, here's another script I've written that you can download - this is an equally harmless script but hopefully it might make you smile a little :)

Also, I'll thank you not to ask just how geeky I have to be to a) be interested in writing scripts and b) decide to give those scripts a political theme.

3 comments:

  1. Everyone needs a break George.You are dealing with heavy stuff for a young man.I hope you have a few outlets to enjoy yourself.

    Like the Virus.I was tempted to say can you send Nick Clegg and David Cameron a real one. ;-) But that would be cheeky. :-)

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  2. it is really very impressive blog. thanks for sharing Lib Dem computer virus or script.it is very knowledgeable and informative

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  3. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

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