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Can a Virus Destroy Hardware?

Thursday, May 27th, 2010 by | Filed Under: Security Help
 
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Q:
In the past, I have contacted several viruses on my computer. I got one the other day and had to completely wipe my hard drive and reinstall Windows. Since then, my printer doesn’t work. This may be stupid, but did the virus destroy my printer? Can viruses damage your hardware?

A:
That is not a stupid question! It totally makes sense. There were no problems with your printer before reinstalling Windows, so it is natural to wonder if the virus damaged your printer in any way. I mean, viruses can completely destroy your programs (as you have previously experienced – and I give you my condolences), so why can’t they go even further and destroy hardware?

The answer to your question – can viruses damage your hardware – is no. Here’s why.

A computer virus is a software program that can reproduce itself and infect a computer or computers. A virus can delete files, make a computer unbootable, destroy installed programs, transfer itself to other computers and infect them, etc. It causes problems in the software on a computer. In other words, if you are still having problems with your printer, the virus is not the cause. A virus can delete and corrupt drivers that run your hardware, i.e. the ones that run your printer. Thus the virus might have prevented your printer from working, but it is not because it physically damaged the printer itself.

HOWEVER (you probably knew that was coming, right?):

You may or may not have heard of the CIH virus, which is also known as the Chernobyl virus. It was a deadly virus written back in 1998 by Chen Ing Hau (hence it being called CIH). This virus is capable of destroying the BIOS on a computer. The BIOS is the basic input/output system that is run when you start (boot) your computer and is needed to test system devices such as your video card, hard disk, floppy disk, etc. It puts the hardware in a state that lets the software be loaded so that you can operate your computer.

The BIOS programs are stored on a chip. If a virus (such as the CIH virus) destroys your BIOS, it is then necessary to reprogram or replace that chip.

Aha! Since you have to replace or reprogram the chip, doesn’t that mean it physically damaged the hardware? A chip is hardware!

The answer is still no. The virus did not physically damage the chip, it destroyed the data on the chip, thus the reprogramming or replacing of the chip.

So now that you know that a virus can’t physically damage hardware, maybe you should try replacing or updating your printer drivers. Go to the manufacturer’s web site and go through their troubleshooting guide. If none of these things work, then maybe it’s time for a new printer. Something may be wrong with the printer, but a virus didn’t do it.

Added note: You may have noticed that I used the present tense when talking about the CIH virus. This is because yes, it does still exist. However, it only infects Windows 95, 98 and ME operating systems and (due to the awareness of the virus) is not as widespread as it once was.

~Lori

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