[ISN] The Anarchic Lure of Virus Writing

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Mon Apr 05 1999 - 13:16:52 PDT

  • Next message: mea culpa: "[ISN] In virus arrest, a glimpse of a shadowy bunch"

    April 3, 1999
    The Anarchic Lure of Virus Writing
    In the world of cyberspace, the sport of virus writing has become the
    latter-day equivalent of the urge to write "Kilroy was here" on the wall
    of the school auditorium. And it is a hobby with a growing following. 
    The emergence of the Melissa virus a week ago, and the announcement
    yesterday of an arrest in the case, underscores the growth on the Internet
    of a community of virus writers and collectors. They freely trade
    malicious code, combine efforts to best the work of antivirus researchers,
    and post their creations on the Internet for anyone to download and
    release into the wild. 
    "It's like candy," said Sarah Gordon, an antivirus researcher for I.B.M. 
    who spent five years researching the virus-writing subculture. "A child
    can get these, a 12-year-old can get these." She said it required little
    technical expertise to introduce a virus once it was obtained. 
    "It's trivial," she said. "All you do is download it to a computer, click
    on it and there you go." 
    As the computer has become ubiquitous, the image of the bad guy of the
    technology era, the bespectacled introvert who attacks computer networks
    by keystroke, has emerged. Within this category, there exists a subset of
    virus writers, a subculture within the subculture. 
    The International Computer Security Association, an industry corporation
    based in Carlisle, Pa., estimated last year that there were 15,000 to
    20,000 viruses in circulation, with 1,000 emerging each month. Only a
    small number are widely circulated, or "make it into the wild," in the
    industry vernacular. 
    But their proliferation has given rise to a highly competitive industry of
    companies that seek out the latest strains and find and market software
    Over the years, virus writing has been perceived as having less status in
    the hacker set than cracking into government and corporate computers. But
    virus writing appears to have become more attractive to hackers as
    publicity around viruses has grown, say computer buffs and executives at
    antivirus companies. 
    One early group of virus writers, 40Hex, which published a magazine,
    emerged in the early 1990's, said Jeff Moss, the founder of Defcon, an
    annual gathering of the computer underground. "They were going to cause
    the downfall of civilization, but then they got bored after a while," 
    Moss said. 
    "There wasn't that much happening in virus writing," he added, "so the
    more motivated people went off to normal hacking." As opposed to hacking,
    which can demand a range of skill levels, virus writing traditionally
    attracted a more technically oriented set. Virus writers "are very much
    into super-down-and-dirty programming," Moss said. 
    But in recent years, virus writing has experienced a resurgence, generally
    attracting a less technically adept group. Increasingly, simple templates
    are available for use in virus writing and breaking into computers, making
    the endeavor open to copycats and less adept programmers. 
    In the underground, these copycats are known as script kiddies. In the
    world of virus writing, they are termed scripters, a name Ms. Gordon gave
    to them. 
    Ms. Gordon said virus-writing enthusiasts had evolved from the late 80's. 
    "It used to be a small group of people with these interests," she said. 
    "With the advent of the Internet, the community has widened and
    accessibility of applications to young people has increased." 
    That may have particular currency in the case of the Melissa virus. Some
    computer security experts have suggested that David L. Smith, the New
    Jersey man arrested in the case yesterday, cobbled together his own virus
    code with virus templates he found on the Web. 
    Authorities in New Jersey said they did not believe that Smith is the
    virus writer known as VicodinES, whose handle has been linked in Internet
    postings with the creation and dissemination of Melissa. What is certain
    is that VicodinES, whoever he or she is, has a Web site that advocates the
    creation and use of viruses, and that Smith's name was found in several
    documents on that Web site dating back at least a year, said Richard
    Smith, an independent software developer in Cambridge, Mass., who is an
    amateur computer sleuth. 
    The Web site, which was taken down on Tuesday night by Access Orlando, the
    Internet service provider in Orlando, Fla., where the Web server was
    situated, served as a bulletin board and downloading site for viruses. It
    contained commentary by the author who identified himself as VicodinES. 
    But some virus writers contend that it is far too simplistic to
    characterize all virus writers as malicious. Some are attracted to virus
    writing because they want to deconstruct programming code, see how it
    works, and poke holes in it as an intellectual endeavor, said a longtime
    virus writer known as Attitude Adjuster. 
    "The idea that all of us out here are malicious teen-agers is quite a
    fallacy," said Attitude Adjuster, who was contacted by E-mail and declined
    to give his real name. "There are those of us who still exist in the
    community who write viruses because it's fun. We don't give our viruses to
    the public and nobody gets hurt." 
    Subscribe: mail majordomoat_private with "subscribe isn".
    Today's ISN Sponsor: Hacker News Network [www.hackernews.com]

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Apr 13 2001 - 13:21:52 PDT