A Tale of Two Viruses
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Hi. My name is Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. But since we are friends, you can call me Corona. You might have not seen me, but I am inside you. I don’t speak, but you can hear me inside your head. First things first. I am a virus: mere 30-ish kilobases/7-8 kilobytes of genetic data encoded within a single strand of RNA, coated in some protein and fat. Fat is really important for me, it keeps me safe and helps me connect to your cells. That’s why I don’t like alcohol and soap, in essence, they disintegrate my skin. But, doubt not, I am severe.
You might ask yourself how I got inside you. It wasn’t even that hard. Remember last week? It might have been Alice who just came from Milan Fashion Week, or Bob who came to work despite feeling under the weather. I know you love hugging your friends and I love you for it.
I didn’t really like your skin. Nothing personal, but your skin cells are not that friendly. I like your eyes better. They have the necessary mucous membrane to get me to your lung epithelial cells. Your lungs are where the magic happens, the epithelial cells have the right kind of receptors for my spikes; and the environment is awesome. The best thing, due to you overworking yourself for the past few months, the few leukocytes that came to fight me were so tired, that I could just stick to the first cell I came across.
The cell. Well, we had an instant connection. My spikes and its receptors just clicked in a heartbeat and I could easily penetrate. Don’t get the wrong idea, I left my fatty coat at the membrane and entered the cytoplasm which really helped take the protein coat off. Once safe inside a host cell. I didn’t need protection.
I made the host my home. It wasn’t that simple, it took some persuasion and tricks, however after losing the coating, things got easier. I exposed my single strand of RNA to my host. Your cell is an amazing host, it really treats me well.
As my RNA floats free around the cytoplasm, the sole purpose of the host is to do whatever I want. I am not that needy, I want nothing but a few copies of my RNA and some protein and fat coats.
The strands of my RNA and their coats are being replicated in the cytoplasm using your energy. Once there are enough of them, they will be packed together in new fully functional viruses and leave the cell in order to find a host for themselves.
They say I am a killer. I like to think of myself as friendly. Social distancing starves me and I don’t like staying at home. But that’s just me.
Hi. My name is WannaCry Ransomware. But since we are friends, you can call me Ransom. You might have not seen me, but I am inside you. I can’t speak, but you can hear me inside your head. First things first. I am a virus, a worm, some would say, basically, 3.72 Megabytes of code, packed in a single .exe file. The .exe file is really important for me, it allows me to self execute inside you. That’s why I don’t like antivirus software and firewalls, they can prevent my .exe file from executing and even not allow me to connect to you. But, doubt not, I am persistent.
You might ask yourself how I got inside you. It wasn’t even that hard. Remember last week? It might have been Alice who asked you to copy GOT Season 9 to her flash drive, or Bob who came to use your printer to print a few files. I know you love helping your friends and I love you for it.
I didn’t really like your ports. Nothing personal, but your HDMI is not that friendly; I’m not sure I know what RJ45 is and what’s its purpose. I needed to get to your USB ports, they have the right kind of receptors and your firewall doesn’t block them. The best thing, since you haven’t updated your OS and antivirus, they didn’t even bother asking who I am and what I am doing here. So I went directly to C:/Windows.
There I felt at home, we just clicked in a heartbeat and I could easily penetrate. Don’t get the wrong idea, I just entered your RAM which really helped my .exe file execute. Once safe inside your RAM, I don’t need protection.
I made you my home. It wasn’t that simple, it took some persuasion and tricks, however after my code was executed I exposed my commands to your processor. You know processors, they think they are smart, but at the end of the day do what they are told.
As my commands enter the processor, your sole purpose is to do whatever I want. And I want nothing but my copies distributed to your network and all the data on your SSD encrypted.
You can tell your network that you are trying to contact a printer via the TMP protocol and instead send my copies to them, so that they can send them to others. I will infect every single vulnerable friend of yours and I won’t decrypt your data until you show some crypto coins. And not even then.
I don’t kill people, I like to think of myself as someone who steals hearts. Updating your OS kills me and antivirus software makes me lame. I really don’t appreciate firewalls. But that’s just me.
Author: Andrej Petrovski
Biology: Olga Tanasković
Illustrations: Igor Vujčić