Do boot-sector viruses spread only through floppy discs, and so are the thing of the past, or can they spread through USB, removable hard drives etc?

Techopedia states:

The propagation of boot sector viruses has become very rare since the decline of floppy disks. Also, present-day operating systems include boot-sector safeguards that make it difficult for boot sector viruses to infect them.


1 Answer 1


No. Viruses can infect any commonly used bootable media.

The spread of this type of viruses became thwarted (in addition to better protection mechanisms) because of a change in media usage patterns.

Floppy disks in their golden age were used as a medium for live OS (booting and running), software distribution and for data exchange.

Nowadays you use:

  • non-removable hard disks
  • write-once read-many optical media (like CDs, DVDs, DVD-Rs)
  • USB drives

Although you can still boot an OS from either of this media, they perform different functions. This alone (not by enforcement, but by convenience) made the propagation of boot sector viruses rare, despite still being technically possible.

For a boot sector virus to spread you must insert a clean bootable media into an infected machine and later use the media to boot another machine.

This is extremely rare case for HDDs (non-USB) as you don't use them for software distribution or data exchange.

In case of optical media, they can be used to spread viruses, but they don't allow for cascading spread of a boot-sector viruses like with floppies.

USB usage pattern makes them most vulnerable of the three, but still it is relatively rare case to boot from USB. And USB media require special attention anyway, so additional procedural measures are taken.

  • 1
    @DrDoom "optical media" refers almost exclusively to CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and similar media.
    – Jules
    Jun 15, 2016 at 4:57

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