The Michelangelo Virus: What It Is and How to Remove It

An historical nasty DOS virus

A conceptual illustration of the Michelangelo virus destroying a laptop computer.

Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi 

Back in the early 1990s, viruses were comparatively new but no less threatening for computer users. One such fearsome threat was the Michelangelo virus which took the computer security world by storm at the time. 

The Michelangelo virus is no longer a threat unless you happen to still be using a DOS-based system from the early 1990s. Even then, it's highly unlikely that you've been infected.

What Is the Michelangelo Virus?

The Michelangelo virus was a form of boot sector virus that was designed to infect DOS-based systems, remaining dormant until March 6, the birthday of artist, Michelangelo. 

The creator of the virus has never been uncovered, but it's assumed that they didn't intend on it being named after the famous artist. Instead, researches noticed the coincidence in its activation date and decided to name it Michelangelo due to the connection. 

How Does Michelangelo Work?

The Michelangelo infection was a sneaky form of boot sector virus. It would remain dormant and undetected on the boot sector of a computer until March 6. On that day, it would activate before overwriting the first one hundred sectors of one's hard drive thereby making it impossible to retrieve any data from it. 

Any floppy disk inserted into the system at the same time would also be infected.

Sneakily, if the computer wasn't used on March 6, the virus would continue to remain dormant until the following year. 

How Do I Know I Have the Michelangelo Virus?

Fortunately, since 1997, no cases of the Michelangelo virus have been reported. It's incredibly unlikely that you have a computer infected with it unless you happen to have a nearly 30-year-old computer that hasn't been switched on much since then. 

However, if that was the case, it'd be near impossible to tell if you were infected without specific tools.

At the time, Norton had a free anti-virus tool that would detect if an infection was present or not. 

Because Michelangelo only existed in the boot sectors of hard drives, it was very quick to determine if there was an infection. Due to its speed, Norton would extend that time, scanning pointless other files in a bid to seem more effective to users at the time!

How Did I Get the Michelangelo Virus?

Given the age of the Michelangelo virus, you almost certainly haven't caught it. 

In the past, it was transmitted by leaving infected floppy disks in your PC. The moment you turn your computer on, the PC would attempt to boot off the floppy disk rather than your hard drive, thereby infecting your system with the Michelangelo virus. 

It also sometimes came on vendor software disks, lulling you into thinking the contents would be safe as they were from a reputable source. These included a PC Paintbrush update disk from Z-Soft, and even Intel's Netspool software which was used for network printers at the time. 

How Do I Get Rid of the Michelangelo Virus?

Although you don't have to worry about getting rid of the Michelangelo virus today, it was a bit of a panic in the early 1990s. That panic has very much faded away now. 

However, this is the perfect time to be reminded that you should use antivirus software as well as malware removal apps at regular points. Other similarly destructive viruses are out there, and there's nothing to stop there being other threats that activate on specific days in the future. 

Both antivirus software and malware removal tools can take several hours to scan your computer, depending on the speed of your PC as well as how many files you have. It's worth taking the time though, as it'll protect you against any threats.

It's worth being acquainted with knowing how to remove viruses for Windows with and without antivirus software too. 

How Can I Avoid Getting the Michelangelo Virus Again?

You can't be infected with the Michelangelo virus anymore, but that doesn't mean you're safe from all virus threats. There are a few key ways in which you can lower your chances of being infected with any kind of virus. Here's a look at some of the crucial ways in which you can stay safe. 

  • Update your antivirus software and malware protection. Keep your antivirus software and malware protection up to date. New virus definitions are released daily and these keep your PC informed on what to look for with new virus and malware-based threats. 
  • Be wary of new programs. It's important to know the source of the programs and apps you've downloaded. Less reputable sites bundle in extra add-ons that you don't require including adware and malware. 
  • Stick to well-known websites. You can be infected by browsing suspicious websites that can download files and viruses. Be careful on websites such as torrenting sites. 
  • Don't click on banner ads. When a pop-up banner appears when browsing a website, don't click on it. Often, it's safest to go to a different website than stay on a site that inundates you with pop-up adverts.