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Chapter 1. Introduction to the Games of Nature

" To me art is a desire to communicate."

Endre Szasz

Computer virus research is a fascinating subject to many who are interested in nature, biology, or mathematics. Everyone who uses a computer will likely encounter some form of the increasingly common problem of computer viruses. In fact, some well-known computer virus researchers became interested in the field when, decades ago, their own systems were infected.

The title of Donald Knuth's book series1, The Art of Computer Programming, suggests that anything we can explain to a computer is science, but that which we cannot currently explain to a computer is an art. Computer virus research is a rich, complex, multifaceted subject. It is about reverse engineering, developing detection, disinfection, and defense systems with optimized algorithms, so it naturally has scientific aspects; however, many of the analytical methods are an art of their own. This is why outsiders often find this relatively young field so hard to understand. Even after years of research and publications, many new analytical techniques are in the category of art and can only be learned at antivirus and security vendor companies or through the personal associations one must forge to succeed in this field.

This book attempts to provide an insider's view of this fascinating research. In the process, I hope to teach many facts that should interest both students of the art and information technology professionals. My goal is to provide an extended understanding of both the attackers and the systems built to defend against virulent, malicious programs.

Although there are many books about computer viruses, only a few have been written by people experienced enough in computer virus research to discuss the subject for a technically oriented audience.

The following sections discuss historical points in computation that are relevant to computer viruses and arrive at a practical definition of the term computer virus.

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