21st Century Infamous Competitions

As all true fans of Westerns know, any bad guy worth his salt will have a score of notches marked on the butt of his revolver: each notch symbolizing another tombstone somewhere in the far west, and yet more kudos for the gunslinger in question.

Fortunately, nowadays, most of us don’t carry guns with us, nor do we go around notching up the rivals we’ve gunned down in the street. However, there is a new breed of “bandit’ in the 21st Century every bit as pretentious as their predecessors from the Wild West. Although the Colt 45 is not longer used, they still have dangerous weapons which can cause untold damage and have possibly even fatal consequences.

We’re talking about computer viruses. Virus writers usually get together in groups where they exchange ideas and techniques for developing malicious code. Each virus creator will fill the others in on any malicious innovation, ensuring that the whole gang is up-to-date with the latest evil creations.

It is reasonable to assume that just as the villains of the past would keep score of their slain opponents, today’s bad guys are just as competitive. This would seem to be borne out by the fact that recently, series of consecutive viruses have been more prevalent and damaging than individual “one-off’ viruses, with virus writers constantly striving to make their creation even more damaging than the previous one.

These contests seemingly take place every few months or so. During the summer of 2001, the Sircam virus caused serious loss, and in September of the same year, just as companies were getting back on their feet, the Nimda virus appeared, putting the antivirus security structures of these companies to the test again.

This was no isolated event. It happened again at the end of the spring of 2003: after the Sobig virus (programmed with an expiry date, beyond which it wouldn’t execute) and its variants had caused major headaches, Bugbear.B appeared, wreaking havoc across the Internet.

Is it just coincidence? or a coordinated attack by virus writers? It would be no surprise to find out that there are macabre competitions running on the Internet. Just as the bandits in the Wild West used to thrive on the notoriety of their cruelty, today’s virus writers are doing the same, gloating when their viruses hit the headlines or just simply enjoying the knowledge that their creations have resulted in losses totaling millions of dollars.

I’m sure that many virus writers will take this personally and will scream blue murder after reading these lines. They will argue that they create these viruses to test IT security and to prove that computers are vulnerable. But that is just a glib excuse to hide, under a benevolent appearance, their miserable thirst for destruction that causes real harm to millions of computer users.

Research is always positive and few scientists, if any, knowingly dedicate their work to evil ends. Research carried out in any other field- whether paleontology, philology or philosophy- aims to improve civilization, not destroy previous creations. And of course, any “research’ that leads to the destruction of the fruit of human labor, economic losses or bringing production to a halt, is not coherent with any philosophical or political tenets that have existed.

I genuinely hope that these lines might make the unwitting virus writers, who believe in the “experimental’ value of their creations, may realize the error of their ways. No bandit has gone down in history as a “Researcher in the relative resistance of human flesh to lead traveling at high velocity”, but simply as a criminal and murderer.

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