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The world's first keyboard virus strikes

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Episode 4 BOFH 2001: Episode 4

It's later in the afternoon when I finally roll into work after a "Doctor's Appointment" to find the PFY printing up Virus warning leaflets espousing the latest thing in desktop danger.

"'The Q virus infects the letter Q on your machine, causing potential damage to any document with a Q in it.' Yes, I can see how that could cause a bit of havoc. No one will go for it, of course," I say.

"Why not?" the PFY asks defensively.

"They never believe anything we send out any more - not since you put that notice up about sound cards causing cancer."

"But that was an excellent warning, with fantastic response."

"Yes, it was. However, I think people got a little bitter and twisted when you subsequently sold all their desktop amps to buy that massive subwoofer for your machine..."

"It was needed!"

"What? To help people downstairs determine when you're losing at Unreal Tournament?"

"No, for the full audio experience of warning bells. So you think I've wasted my time with this then?"

"Not entirely. Of course the leaflet needs a little work, but it's saveable. I'll do a bit of editing while you pop down to the mail room and score us some shiny paper and a plastic sealer."

And so it was that the Q virus became top topic of the verbal agenda of the workplace the subsequent day...

"Ah, a quick word about this Q virus thing," the boss mumbles as he trolleys in at about .005 knots with a tail wind (probably the curry dinner from last night).

"Q virus?"

"Yes, the Q virus!"

"Never heard of it. And I'm on all the popular virii mailing lists!"

"Well it's all here in black and white," he cries, waving around a yellow flyer bulletin. Colours aren't his strongpoint.

"Let's see," I ask, grabbing the PFY's handiwork.

And impressive handiwork it is too - all credit to him. The correct mix of important looking fonts, jargon and shiny paper combining to give the illusion of authenticity.

"It's a joke!" I cry. "Whoever heard of a virus infecting a keyboard?"

"Like it says," the boss counters, "it's a... macro-symbiotic virus that, uh, attaches itself to hardware and uses the keyboard circuit borad matrix as a simple form of the... old-style core memory thingy."

"Yes," I murmur dubious, "those core memory 'thingies' can be problematic. But anyway, it's a prank - someone's obviously printed it as a joke."

"It's on shiny paper!" the Boss cries, playing his ace in the hole.

"We can print on shiny paper here!" I cry, giving the truth a bit of a spin. "Someone could've just grabbed some from the mail room and printed it on that printer over there!"

"AH!" the boss cries, playing another ace from a hole best not theorised upon. "But it came with one of our computing mags!"

"Someone just slipped it into the pages to make you look foolish!"

"I don't think so - it was sealed in the delivery bag - and I'm not the only one who got it - there was one in every issue! I've already been called by the Head Accounting Consultant to see if we've got an eradication plan."

"The Head Accounting Consultant? Isn't he the guy that once stapled a note to a floppy disk?"

"He says you told him it'd allow it to be used as an attachment."

"That's Ridiculous! But even if I had, surely he would have been intelligent enough not to do it. Imagine if I'd told him that an axe and wallpaper paste was the best way to perform a cut and paste!"

"They fired that consultant, as you well know. Anyway, I don't care, I think we should take the recommended action!"

"TRANSLATE ALL CAPITAL Qs IN DOCUMENTS TO LOWER CASE!? But it's already entered into the machine – it's nothing to do with the keyboard!"

"THAT'S WHAT ACTIVATES THE VIRUS!"

"Please. It'd take..."

"LOOK AT THIS!" the boss beckons, dragging me to his office so I can see the PFY's latest efforts have included removing springs from keyboards.

"It's not a virus, your Q key is just stuck down!"

"No, it's the virus. I was reading a document, and this happened!"

"And you used Alt-Q to quit?"

"Say what you like, it's all happening as the virus predicted. And we're only at stage one! I'm nipping this in the bud now before it infects other keys!!!"

Without further ado, the boss grabs the phone in 'executive-decision' mode, and gives the helldesk his orders.

Later that day...

"So, I've got all the Q keys quarantined," the PFY cries, holding up his plastic bag.

"OK," the boss gasps, in Jim Phelps mode, reading the warning sheet for his next mission. "Now we have to disinfect them."

It's truly sad what you can get people to do with a piece of shiny paper...

"We have to get the keys and place them in a metal container approximately 50 cubic litres in size and spin them around to disorientate the viral strain."

"THE MICROWAVE!" the PFY shouts, running to the break room and whacking the contents of the bag on High for ten minutes.

Eleven minutess later in mission control...

"So where would we get replacement keys from?" the PFY asks.

"THE VIRUS HOTLINE WILL KNOW!" the Boss blurts, punching some numbers from the sheet into his cellphone.

"Hello," the PFY says, answering his phone. "Virus Hotline..."

And if you listened very carefully, you could just hear the penny drop.

"What's it going to cost me?"

"For... um... 73 replacement keyboards at... say... ten quid apiece?"

"..."

"730 quid. But to you guvnor, call it 500. They're in the storeroom."

"But they already belong to the company!"

"Or maybe they're not in the store. Who knows, what with it being locked and all..."

500 quid later...

"I did like watching that negotiation taking place," I admit. "It was so..."

"Rewarding?" the PFY asks.

"No, next week's rewarding, this was... interesting."

"Next week?"

"Yes, you know, when the Mouse Ball virus breaks out."

"Ah, of course..." ®

BOFH is copyright © 1995-2001, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.

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