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Stupid question from stupid exam

 
Bartender
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We were all made to do an information security training course at work, one of the questions on the exam was
" hardware doesn't get infected with viruses true or false" being the bunch of geeks we are this conversation took about 1 hour up.
I can't even remember what the supplied answer was, I was just wondering about you lots view on this question...
 
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Hardware doesn't get infected by a computer virus. Firmware possibly, but that's still software.
 
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False. A virus is written in code. Even OS or assembly code. But not the physical device.

What was the counter-argument for true?
 
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It is a truly stupid question. In any grad-level class, you should be able to argue all semester over this. It is a philosophy question, not a technical one.

Consider:

  • What is hardware?
  • What is software?
  • How can you tell them appart?


  • For instance, is a FPGA hardware or software? I will agree that 40+ years ago, it was fairly easy to tell, as hardware was made of transistors or LSI chips, and software was loaded onto hardware. But most hardware has not been made of TTL chips since the 1980s. One way that AMD beat Intel at performance in the late 1990s was that AMD didn't bother to try to speed up the X86 design, which had by that time grown into a crock of patches and kludges. Instead AMD had a RISC micro-engine in its CPUs that executed the equivalent of the X86 instructions. What controlled the micro-engine? How about software. But it was the CPU? How was the CPU defined? By the instruction set, not by how it executed the instructions.

    The great Alan Turning proved that hardware and software are isomorphic. This equivalence has been the foundation of Computer Science since WW2.
     
    Wendy L Gibbons
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    As the course was so stupid and wooly at one point it was talking about USB sticks being a virus threat, but it isn't the stick it is the software on it, so was this question an extension of that, by infected did they mean living on ie the disk drive?
     
    Pat Farrell
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    Wendy Gibbons wrote:As the course was so stupid and wooly at one point it was talking about USB sticks being a virus threat.



    Wow, that is a huge leap. That means any "hardware" that stores data is a virus threat. Could be @wendy's USB stick, or a hard disk, or a network card, or a floppy disk.

    My first real exposure to a virus was in the early 90s while I was in grad school. Students used a huge lab of computers, and 5-1/2" floppies were the only way to store programs. Unknown to me, nearly all of the machines in the lab were infected, so as soon as I inserted a floppy, a nice boot sector virus jumped on. But the course's definitions, was the hardware, the floppy, the threat?
     
    Marshal
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    If I'm not mistaken, the Stuxnet virus was transferred into those Iranian computers via USB sticks. (I just looked and Wikipedia says that.)

    So yeah, you could say a USB stick is a virus threat. Just like an airplane was a possible vector for carrying BSE back in the days of mad cow disease.

    But I just used a technical term -- "vector" -- which specifically means, in biology and public health, something which transmits a disease from one host to another. It's possible to discuss computer security in such terms.
     
    Sheriff
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    That reminds me of the most esoteric riddle I've ever heard:

    What do you get when you cross a mosquito with a mountain climber?
    Nothing, you can't cross a vector with a scalar.


    Actually, that comes in second. First is:

    Who was Which Tyler?
    Leader of the Pedants' Revolt

    (I couldn't even understand that one without a lengthy explanation.)
     
    lowercase baba
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    by some extension, couldn't you then say that a keyboard is a virus threat? I mean, I can sit at a keyboard and put a virus on a machine by writing it then running it. Or would I be the virus threat?
     
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    What is hardware?
    What is software?
    How can you tell them apart?



    Precisely my train of thought when I saw the question.

    Firmware possibly, but that's still software.



    Yep, I began to delve about firmware too. If a virus in the firmware causes the device to malfunction, is that hardware itself infected by a virus since the hardware is useless without the firmware ? Technically - no, but you can argue so.
     
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