Viral Load

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Even if viruses have been quarantined on a user’s system, the user is often not allowed to access the quarantined files. The ostensible reason for this high level of secrecy is the claim that open access to computer virus code would result in people writing more computer viruses – a difficult claim for an antivirus company to make given that once they themselves have a copy of a virus then machines running their antivirus software should already be protected from that virus. A more believable explanation for antivirus companies’ unwillingness to release past virus programs is that a large part of their business model is predicated upon their ability to exclusively control stockpiles of past computer virus specimens as closely guarded intellectual property.

None of this absence of archival material is helped by the fact that the concept of a computer virus is itself an ontologically ambiguous category. The majority of so-called malicious software entities that have plagued Internet users in the past few years have technically not been viruses but worms. Additionally, despite attempts to define clear nosological and epidemiological categories for computer viruses and worms, there is still no consistent system for stabilizing the terms themselves, let alone assessing their relative populations. Elizabeth Grosz commented during an interview with the editors of Found Object journal that part of the reason for the ontological ambiguity of computer viruses is that they are an application of a biological metaphor that is largely indeterminate itself. According to Grosz, we are as mystified, if not more so, by biological viruses as we are by computer viruses. Perhaps we know even more about computer viruses than we do about biological viruses! The same obscurities are there at the biological level that exists at the computer level (…)

As Grosz suggests, it is no wonder that computer viruses are so ontologically uncertain, given that their biological namesakes threaten to undermine many of the binarisms that anchor modern Western technoscience, such as distinctions between organic and inorganic, dead and living, matter and form, and sexual and asexual reproduction.

Viral Load

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