[ISN] Teen Hacker Packs Feminist Punch

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Thu Apr 25 2002 - 01:09:53 PDT

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    By Rick Lockridge, Tech Live New York bureau chief
    April 24, 2002 
    MECHLIN, Belgium -- She can kick your butt and wipe your hard drive
    cleaner than a dog's dinner plate. So when the young kickboxer and
    virus writer known as "Gigabyte" tells you she doesn't want her face
    on TV, well, you play along. Tonight's "Tech Live" tells her story.
    "I'll just shoot you from behind," I say, carrying my TV camera across
    the large mat that covers the health club's gymnasium floor. It's
    almost time for the 6 p.m. kickboxing class, and Gigabyte is the only
    woman there.
    Of course, she's used to that. In the male-dominated world of virus
    writers, she stands out. And not only because of her gender. She is
    also something of a virus-writing prodigy, having started programming
    at age six.
    "I figured out how to write a few lines of code on my uncle's
    Commodore 64," says Gigabyte, who just recently celebrated her 18th
    birthday. "Later, I wanted to learn more about programming, so I went
    to the store and asked for books. The salespeople were surprised. It
    was like: 'Why do you want a book? Why don't you just buy a game and
    go play?' But games are not very interesting to me. I wanted to learn
    how to write real executable programs."
    So she did.
    'Sharpei' attacks
    At age 14, she wrote her first computer worm, which took over the
    shutdown screens of infected users.
    Two years later, she wrote a powerful virus that mangles MP3 files.  
    And recently, she became only the second person to write a virus in C#
    (pronounced "C sharp"), the language of Microsoft's new .Net platform.
    Her so-called "Sharpei" worm, which comes in an email attachment,
    claims to be a Microsoft software update that can result in a "50
    percent speed increase." Instead, it is a computer worm that spreads
    via Microsoft's Outlook email program and infects certain files in
    computers where the .Net framework is present.
    "I think I must have really pissed [Microsoft] off," she says, "but I
    don't know, because they didn't react." (Microsoft will not comment on
    "Sharpei," but says the security of its .Net platform, which is built
    to enable the security of online applications, has not been
    "That's because I didn't release 'Sharp' [her name for the virus] in
    the wild," Gigabyte says. "I wish I had finished it before .Net
    released. I would have liked to see the virus get out before the
    software even came out. That would have been funny."
    Keeping it out of the wild
    Gigabyte is quick to remind visitors that she never releases her
    viruses into the wild. Instead, she sends them to antivirus companies,
    hoping for the kind of affirmation that only comes with a "high-risk"  
    But she also has posted her viruses on her homepage -- meaning anyone
    else could release them.
    "That's not my problem," she says. "When people make guns, can you
    blame them when somebody else kills [somebody] with them? I only write
    them; I don't release them."
    School days
    The morning after kickboxing class, I arrive at Gigabyte's house at
    6:30. She's having tea with her grandmother in the kitchen of a tiny,
    immaculate cottage. She has lived with her grandparents most of her
    life, for reasons she declines to discuss. We catch the public bus
    downtown to her school. Although the bus is packed with other
    teenagers, she speaks to no one.
    We walk a few blocks to her school, a religious school which "no
    longer makes any effort to teach religion," she says. "But they have
    good computer classes, which is why I go here."
    Tina Hauquier, who teaches Gigabyte's Friday morning computer class,
    says, "She is a good young programmer. But I do not approve of her
    virus writing. I know she says she is not causing any harm, and it is
    true that she does not intentionally spread these viruses, but I do
    not think it is appropriate, and viruses can cause a lot of damage."
    Nevertheless, teacher and student are cordial to each other throughout
    the long morning class.
    Dispelling the feminist myth
    Later that afternoon, Gigabyte walks around the computer room her
    grandparents have set aside for her (no small sacrifice in such a tiny
    home), flicking on no fewer than four Windows machines. (There's a
    fifth in the corner of the living room.) She's comfortable here, and
    full of opinions.
    On being some sort of feminist icon: "That's bullsh**," she says. "I'm
    a virus writer. If I wanted to make a [feminist] statement, don't you
    think it would be part of the viruses I've written?
    "I mean, yeah, I do want to admit I'm female because there is nothing
    to hide about it. The world should know there are female virus writers
    out there. But it's certainly not my motivation for virus writing. I
    do this for myself, not for the whole world. Other females don't need
    me to stand up for them, they can do it for themselves."
    'Ugly' Gates and stupid people
    On Bill Gates and Microsoft: "I wouldn't want to be him. Too ugly. I
    think I have more of a thing against Microsoft and Bill Gates'
    attitudes than I do against their products. If they would just admit
    there are mistakes and admit there are security problems, that would
    make [their products] work a whole lot better."
    On attacking Microsoft's highly touted .Net platform: "Microsoft said
    .Net and C# were safer, and yes, there's really no specific flaw in
    it. But they are just not as sharp as they claim. You can write a
    virus in C# just like you can in any language."
    On the ethics of writing viruses: "I'm not responsible for stupid
    people who open email attachments that erase their files."
    "But what about newbies who don't know any better?" I ask.
    "Sh** happens," she responds.
    I ask her why her viruses tend to be mischievous or humorous rather
    than all-out destructive. "I think," she says, "that it's better to be
    infected with something funny than something destructive."
    "But your viruses can also be destructive," I remind her. "What about
    your Scrambler virus?" (Scrambler attacks all the MP3s on a computer
    hard drive and scrambles the music into an unintelligible mess.)
    She shrugs and says, "Some viruses reformat your hard drive after a
    few weeks. Scrambler is not that bad."
    Likely pet
    "Hey, she says, "let's go outside. I want to show you something."
    I'm led out into the backyard garden, which, of course, is beautifully
    groomed -- people in Belgium really take care of their yards. There
    are painted gnomes, and a small pond, and then, suddenly, there is a
    ferret: Gigabyte's pet ferret, out for a little afternoon walk. How
    right they are for each other, I think, looking at the ferret and the
    virus writer. Both are cunning, quick, and you wouldn't want either of
    them to bite you.
    "Virus writing is so aggressive, and most reasonable people consider
    it an act of vandalism, or at least potential vandalism," I say.  
    "Would you spray paint graffiti on somebody's wall?"
    "We are not coming inside anyone's walls," she said. "The users are
    running the virus. They are the ones clicking on it."
    "So you think the people who execute these programs are responsible
    for the damage that your viruses do?" I ask.
    "Actually," she says, "I think stupid people should have to have some
    sort of license to get on the Internet."
    There's a pause in the conversation. The ferret is turning somersaults
    in the grass at our feet.
    What's next?
    "Do you think of what you do as art?" I ask.
    "I want to do something original, that not everyone does," she says.  
    "If you write something that's new or funny or special in a way, then
    I think it is a form of art, yes."
    I ask her if she wants to work with computers for a living. When she
    grows up, I mean.
    "Yes. But not with an antivirus company," she says. "I will never do
    That would run counter to her code.
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