Web sabotage: it's a viral zoo

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Story Link

Web sabotage: it's a viral zoo
By DAVID HIGGINS, Technology Editor

If you went searching the Internet for advice on the Love Bug virus over the weekend, you may have noticed an odd thing.

It was hardly surprising to find Internet newsgroups swamped with thousands of messages from people seeking advice about exterminating a virus which has infected millions of computers around the world.

But among the pleas for anti-virus antidotes and preventative advice were a number of coy - and not so coy - requests from people seeking a copy of the virus ... "send i love you virus please" ... "Virii needed desperately" ... "Love Bug wanted!"

And there were plenty of obliging fellow Internet users. Some copied the 315 lines of code from the virus directly into the newsgroups, which act as electronic bulletin boards.

"Here's the source for I love you ... I'll only post this once," said one. Others simply left the Web addresses of sites from which the bug could be downloaded.

Who were these suicidal virus seekers? Owners of old PCs trying to claim insurance for the cost of a nice new Pentium? Angry employees trying to sabotage the company network? Or was this the cyber equivalent of the arms trade - anarchists swapping their deadly weapons in preparation for an even bigger, organised assault on the world's computers?

Probably none of the above. The Love Bug's cheer squad does contain a fair share of teen anarchists and members of the anti-Microsoft brigade (the virus only affects users of Microsoft Windows and Outlook email software).

But for other virus admirers, it isn't their destructive force. As one hacker argued in a chat room, the trail of carnage was an example of the reproduction of an artificial life form - a thing to behold.

On the Internet, collecting viruses is a hobby. Within this viral community, a virus is not simply a can of digital spray paint, to be used to leave one's mark and cause some havoc. Viruses are treated as a primitive form of artificial intelligence, to be created and improved upon.

Visit a site such as the Virus Trading Center at www.coderz.net/vtc and take a journey into the world of digital viral zoos.

The Virus Trading Center contains links to dozens of sites that contain not only the latest viruses, but hundreds of other programs that range from instant virus makers to database programs that neatly collate virus collections and others that search the Web looking for new strains.

Many such as as the Amateur Virus Creation & Research Group seem to act as bona fide scientific groups which publish their own scientific periodicals. VX-Research, for instance, publishes findings on self-reproduction and "stealth and survival" among viruses in the wild.

Others, with more colourful names such as The Association of Really Cruel Viruses and Creatures of Electronic Anti Christ, seem to have different agendas.

But while most virus writers may fit software maker Symantec's profile of a 14 to 23-year-old adolescent out for a bit of a thrill, virus collectors regard themselves as online anthropologists.

Some, who keep collections of rare viruses designed for old computer platforms, such as the Apple II and the Atari, are scathing of "script kiddies" who simply change the name of a virus and onsend it as a new discovery.

The copycats, who have largely been responsible for a dozen or so variations of the Love Bug, don't rate highly among collectors.

Commonly, hackers regard the Love Bug as a simple virus that probably "got lucky" in its early life by striking a corporation with thousands of addresses in its email system. Like last year's Melissa virus, the Love Bug uses email address books to reproduce.

Yet as "Lorz" proclaims on a site dedicated to a virus-writing group based in the Philippines, all viruses are considered precious programs in the viral community.

So while most of us were cursing the Love Bug for lost files or the cost of shelling out for an anti-virus program, virus dealers admired it as a fine new specimen.


Reading all the virus reports is daily routine. This article is rather interesting and I thought worthy of posting. Reminded me of the earlier days pre roll-over when predictions were drear and dire. Maybe they were just a bit early.

Regards from OZ on a PC box without love...so far

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), May 08, 2000


The following is how the debate is going in OZ tonight. A bit like the 'GMO' talk...

Monoculture and virus susceptibility
Comment by PETER MARKS of news.com.au

LAST week's virus outbreak is due to the dominance of one company's technology, but if you were damaged good luck claiming compensation.

Like the Melissa virus before it, the "ILOVEYOU" virus that swept the Microsoft world last week relies on a really stupid security vulnerability in recent products that permits the execution of program code at the point when a document, or e-mail message, is opened. The idea that it might be neat if someone could create a document that, when opened, would execute some code on the viewer's computer without their permission is a big mistake.

If your business has been hurt by the exploitation of this flaw, it would be nice to think that because you've dealt with a major commercial business, instead of some amateur open source work of art, you might be able to sue to recover damages?

Not according to the Washington supreme court which upheld the terms of a shrink-wrap licence that limits liability to the price of the box.

In a 7-2 decision last week, the court rejected a construction firm's claim that a software maker should be liable for US$1.95 million in losses the company says were caused by a bad computer program.

We would never accept the sort of terms we so quickly click the "agree" button on if they were associated with any other consumer product.

In intensive farming, where large areas of land are sown with a single strain of a crop, there is a risk that a single disease can wipe out a whole farm.

Likewise, a world dominated by e-mail software from one supplier runs the risk of outbreaks of a virus that causes huge disruption at best, and real damage to our economy at worst.

Diversity is important in nature, and it's important in software too.


-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), May 08, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ