Updated A batch of laptops pre-installed with Windows Vista Home Premium was found to have been infected with a 13-year-old boot sector virus.
Those of you with a long memory will vividly recall the year 1994: Nirvana's lead singer Kurt Cobain died, South Africa held its first multi-racial elections, and Tony Blair became leader of the Labour party. Oh, and Microsoft's operating system was the quaint, pre-NT Windows for Workgroups.
But it was a year that also saw the arrival of a boot sector computer virus known as Stoned.Angelina which moved the original master boot record to cylinder 0, head 0, sector 9.
It would appear that this teenage virus has not yet been consigned to the history books.
According to Virus Bulletin, the consignment of infected Medion laptops – which could number anything up to 100,000 shipments – had been sold in Danish and German branches of retail giant Aldi.
The computers had been loaded with Microsoft's latest operating system Vista and Bullguard's anti-virus software, which failed to detect and remove the malware.
Although the infection itself is harmless, Stoned.Angelina will undoubtedly have left Microsoft and Bullguard execs blushing with embarrassment about the apparent flaws in their software which allowed an ancient virus to slip through the back door.
On its website Bullguard offered some reassurance to Medion customers hit by the virus:
"Stoned.Angelina is a low-risk boot virus that infects the MBR (Master Boot Record) of hard disks. This is a very old virus. Apart from its ability to spread from computer to computer, it carries no payload (damage) to the systems it infects."
It added that the virus commonly spreads by being booted from an infected floppy disk, and causes no damage to the operating system.
Virus Bulletin technical consultant John Hawes said: "This is a reminder that old viruses never really die.
"Malware that's been off the radar for years often pops up when least expected, after someone digs out an old floppy or boots up an ancient system, and security firms have a duty to maintain protection against older threats for just this kind of eventuality." ®
Bullguard contacted The Register to point out that although the firm's software failed to remove the virus it had in fact detected the presence of the ancient malware on the affected Vista machines.
The firm's PR and technology consultant Benjamin Verduign told us that because the virus had laid dormant for so long signature files were no longer present in its anti-virus software to clean up the virus.
He explained that software and anti-virus firms have to regularly make judgement calls over which signature files should be present in the boot sector. Too many could impact the speed at which a machine boots which can be frustrating for the user, Verduign said.
He conceded that the "unfortunate" issue could cause embarrassment for Microsoft and Bullguard but also pointed out that the anti-virus firm's development team had quickly provided a "tailor-made" Vista fix as soon as it learned of the problem.
Asked if this means we could see a resurgence of old viruses attacking new operating systems, Verduign said: "This is not so much a wake-up call but more a reminder" and added that it would be impossible to ever "completely eradicate a virus."