I had a very unexpected situation come up recently, and it’s something that I know has popped up at least a few times in the past few years with other people I know who collect and preserve old computer software.

Allow me to share this screenshot first:

image

Indeed, a couple of disks that got passed to me recently actually have the Michelangelo Virus on them.

This is particularly interesting from several viewpoints:

While the virus was big enough to make the nightly news back in early 1992, it was absolutely a flash in the pan case– it was detected reliably by every antivirus within a very short time and actual instances of infection were very uncommon after the initial wave.

As a result, these disks would have been last touched (as in actually used) somewhere between 1991 and 1993, before being imaged only very recently.

So why is this such a big deal? Because more and more as we unearth old disks for preservation purposes, we come across disks that are infected and have been infected for a very long time. This is the sort of wake-up call that every preservation-minded person should be taking into mind: even if those are your own disks, there’s no guarantee that they didn’t get infected at some point when you weren’t looking, and absolute caution should be taken with these to scan them before trying to actually preserve them.

We have to remember that these disk images are not only used in emulators (and can in fact infect the emulated machine) but also on real hardware; some may have unexpected interactions with modern OSes but also may infect old hardware that people are running these disks on.

The last thing anyone wants is for a canonical preserved dump to end up being an infection vector that leads to a modern revival of something that died off decades ago!