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Initially, the virus writers among the programmers and hackers were hobbyists – or those engaged in research (though perhaps misguided or misapplied). Sometimes – or perhaps all the time – viruses would escape from their hosts and get sent into the wild.

One of the oldest had to do with the original game of Adventure: so many people wanted to play it, that it was decided in the local environment to automatically replicate Adventure on the user’s local machine before running. It was so wildly successful that it was everywhere – and then the counter-virus was written that would delete a copy of Adventure if the user no longer wanted it. (I’ll be durned if I can actually back up that story…. my memory doesn’t go back that far…)

Now it has been reported by The Register (and noted by darknet.org.uk and TrendLabs Malware Blog) that the virus writing club 29A is disbanding. Most virus writing groups of the past have been the equivalent of spray painters painting a building – or those that try to see how many places they can go in a building (building hackers?). Money was not the objective – prestige, honor, and popularity were all part of it.

Now with the demise of 29A, and the newly reported fact that adware has surpassed viruses as the largest current threat, it is becoming clear that the typical virus writer is changing – becoming more interested in profit and extortion.

Is this a fact worth bemoaning? Before, virus writers just wanted to wipe out a system – or propogate the virus as widely as possible. Now writers want to put the system into a botnet or to extort money from the owner. Which is better?

The hacker ethic states that you do no damage to a system. The earliest virus writers did their best to follow this – but virus writers haven’t followed that rule for many years.

It doesn’t make one sleep any easier at night knowing viruses are now the domain of the extortionist and not the spraypainter….

All I know is, I’ll spend whatever time and effort I can to keep them out. A production system cannot go down due to a virus, no matter if it is malignant or not.

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