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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6

TODAY IN COMPUTER HISTORY

In 1992, hysteria swept over the planet as newspapers, magazines, and television networks proclaimed that on March 6, the birth date of Renaissance artist Michelangelo, up to one quarter of American hard drives would be completely erased. This was the birth of the Michelangelo virus.

The media frenzy started through a coincidence. In January of 1992, one computer manufacturer claimed it had inadvertently distributed 500 PCs carrying the virus while another computer company issued a press release stating that from that point on it would bundle antivirus software with every PC it sold. The two events were completely unrelated, but apparently it was a slow news day and reporters tried to make a story out of it. By the time March 5 rolled around, the fever pitch had reached Y2K proportions. Even the respectable Wall Street Journal carried the headline "Deadly Virus Set to Wreak Havoc Tomorrow."

Why did the media go nuts? For one thing, John McAfee, the man behind McAfee Anti-Virus, told reporters that an estimated five million computers worldwide could lose their hard drives on account of the Michelangelo virus. (Take note that there were a lot of other ballooned predictions from other people.) As you can imagine, McAfee's prediction boosted his company's sales significantly.

When March 6 came, the virus struck only about 10,000 computers. Many members of the media claimed it would have affected far more if not for their reporting.

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