Mar 22 1998

Princess Diana, Elton John … and computer viruses

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Princess Diana, Elton John, and computer viruses — the media will beat a path to your door if you can use all three in a single sentence. Panda Software created worldwide publicity for itself in early February with a press release about a “peculiar virus” they named Lady Di.

Lady Di virus info
According to Panda’s website, Lady Di “activates its damaging effects on the 31st of every month.” What “damaging” payload does this “peculiar virus” carry? Brace yourself: it displays two verses from Sir Elton’s tribute song. Mainstream media outlets latched onto the press release; Panda went so far as to display the photo at right on their default page.

I didn’t chide the Lady Di publicity stunt when it surfaced. Why should I? Media outlets whimpered like drug addicts for anything remotely connected to Diana’s tragedy and Panda gave them a fix.

Other AV firms have never seen this virus — not in a lab, not in the wild. Some experts wonder if Panda Soft­ware made up the story as a tabloid publi­city stunt.

Nearly two months have passed since Panda trumpeted Lady Di‘s existence… yet it appears no one else has seen this virus. CARO members shrugged their shoulders and company insiders scratched their heads when I asked about it. A number of experts wonder if Panda made up the story for the tabloids; Microsoft Word guru Woody Leonhard (WOPR) answered “five minutes” when I asked how long it would take to build any text-based dialog box from scratch.

My own working theory? I believe this macro virus exists — and I’ll bet Panda wants to keep it to themselves so no other AV firm can pull the same publicity stunt. You must use Panda’s products if you feel compelled to scan for this “peculiar” virus. I tried to learn more about it from Panda’s 24/7/365 tech support crew, but they simply told me to check out the website.

Speaking of tech support: Panda’s website claims they are “the only antivirus company in the world that provides you with worldwide technical support personnel 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.” Oh? What about Sophos? I called their tech support crew on a Saturday afternoon for details on Lady Di. (FYI: Sophos’ website lists the support number. Panda’s website doesn’t.)

Panda also encourages people to join — I’m not making this name up — a “Bug of the Month Club.” I quote:

“Every month, the technicians of Panda Software’s International Virus Research Laboratory select the most interesting virus they have detected during the course of the previous month. The members of the club receive a monthly ‘Bug of the Month’ press release. Viruses are considered newsworthy if they are nasty, if they prompt the computer user to take pernicious action or if they suppose a technological brake-through [sic].”

Lady Di dedication
I’ll give them credit for truth-in-advertising for saying “press release” and “newsworthy.” Still, this “club” generated renewed media interest in early March regarding a “fascinating” older virus named Elvira. The press release includes these wild passages:

  • “delighting his soul with these poetic verses…”
  • “The unlucky computer user has just had the pleasure of meeting Elvira…”
  • “Elvira’s charm resides in the fact that it is a true expert…”
  • “Elvira’s poetry shows the world that…”
  • “to the enjoyment of anti-virus technicians, [Elvira] changes the code of encryption every time it replicates…”

I’d swear this press release reads like a love letter to Elvira‘s author. It comes from the same company which “dedicated” a virus to Diana, after all.