Sunday, November 20, 2005

Creators of Viruses

When you sit back and ponder the existence of thousands of viruses, you can’t help but wonder who creates them. Virus writers vary wildly from thrill-seeking teens to experienced programmers conducting experiments (however misguided they might be). One virus might exist to fulfill a warped promise of revenge, whereas another might exist as a way to test mere possibilities. Actually, many of the first virus writers were not outright troublemakers.
“The earliest guys were engineer types who were figuring out stuff,” Hinojosa says. “The groundbreaking work was done by legitimate people. That knowledge got out and people who probably otherwise didn’t have the capability or the discipline to do the research took advantage of that earlier work.”
Hinojosa says early virus writers used Assembler, an older, nuts-and-bolts programming language, to create many of the first viruses. As viruses grew in number and exposure, tools emerged that made virus creation easier, inviting a new generation of virus writers to create malicious code with little or no programming knowledge; but at the same time, these tools decreased the overall effectiveness of the malicious code.
“From what I’ve seen, more viruses are buggy as a percentage of code than standard, legitimate code,” Hinojosa says. “Guys will troll around looking for virus code, wanting to do their own thing with it, and they don’t totally understand how it works. More times than not, they botch it.”
Many infamous viruses were not able to cause the amount of damage their creators intended, often due to problems with the virus code. Because of this, we can probably assume that if those do-it-yourself tools for creating viruses were not available, today’s viruses would be much more sinister than they are.
But what about the rumor that claims anti-virus companies create and release viruses to keep themselves in business? Forget about it, Hinojosa says, because then viruses would be too good. “I can tell you if one of the experts in [an anti-virus] lab wanted to write a virus, you wouldn’t have a computer,” he says. “You’d have a piece of plastic and metal. Not literally, but you know what I’m talking about.”


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