Why do virus writers do it?

When some jerk writes a computer virus and releases it on the Internet, what is he* trying to prove? Is it:

A: Show off for friends. “Wait till my geeky virus buddies see how bad I can write.”

B: John Hinkley syndrome. “Some girl snubbed me, so I’ll just hurt others until she notices me.”

C: Challenge the clock. “How far can my virus go and how much damage can it do before a cure is able to stop it?”

D: Some other motivation.
And as a secondary question: What would be an appropriate punishment when virus writers get caught?

*Please excuse the masculine pronouns; no slight is intended to the female virus writers out there.

The release of viruses is sometimes an act of virtual terrorism. It is relatively cheap and easy method by which radical groups to do serious harm to large organizations.

Amateur hacks do it for a variety of reasons. They may view it as a “battle” against groups of professionals who have developed sophisticated defenses against such virtual menaces. For some, it may be a perverted means of feeling “powerful” by causing havoc to many people and large organizations. I doubt that many professional hacks truly realize the level of damage and pain they create through their acts.

I believe that the release of computer viruses should be treated as a felony with a suitably stiff penalty. I believe it should be treated at the level of Embezzlement or mail fraud. However, I believe that the punishment should entail service to the community from within a prison environment that makes use of their technical skills, if possible.

Egoboo. The virus writer loves the attention, and they strive to create a virus that makes bigger headlines than the last.

I gather then that it would be more informative to group the virus writers into different categories. Should they be:

  1. Cyber Terrorists: out to destroy and disrupt for political reasons.

  2. Jilted Students (high school & college): trying to get attention from a love interest.
    (Wasn’t this the reason given by the guy in the Philippines who wrote “Melissa” or “Love Bug”?)

  3. Ego Boost / Power Trip: in a competition of sorts to beat the Anti-Virus Pros, and get their name (or at least their virus’ name) in the news.

  4. Other:
    In terms of punishment, would it then vary according to the motivation. For example, would someone doing it for political and terrorism reasons be treated harder than a love-sick teen?
    IIRC, the college kid in the Philippines only had a finger shaken at him; “No, no, no! Bad boy!”
    Or should it depend on the amount of damage done? Or some other factor?

Please. My son insists that you use the correct terminology. A hacker is anyone who changes source code to make it work better, or who is just tying to learn how computers work. A “cracker” is someone who maliciously breaks into a computer to do damage or cause havoc. Hackers made the internet!!

please adhere to these definitions.
thank you and have a nice day =Þ

Y’know, EVERY TIME one of these threads come up people start whining about “it’s not a HACKER it’s a CRACKER.”

Well then I’m damn well going to whine too.

IT’s NOT A CRACKER! My white-trash uncle is a cracker and he’s never owned a computer in his life! You people are defaming my white-trash uncle! Whine Whine Whine!

There are also virus-writers who create them for research purposes and would never themselves release them into the “wild”.

Others create them as a “proof of concept” thing, and then give/sell the information to anti-virus software companies.

Sorry! He was reading over my shoulder and just seemed to think it was important to not lump everyone together. Apparently it’s a big deal to him…sorry I didn’t know it was an overworked distinction.

Triscuit, anyone?

Sorry for jumping you like that - I didn’t mean to come off sounding as pissy as I did. But literally every time a thread on this topic comes up it degenerates into an argument over the word “hacker.” Y’got the people who work in code arguing that “hacker” is GOOD and “cracker” is bad, and then you got Everybody Else In The World, including the mass media, saying that “hacker” IS the proper word. And it’s just never going to get reconciled.

IMHO, cracker isn’t the proper word for virus writers no matter how you cut the cake. Crackers are those who either break into computer systems, or somehow “crack” software (e.g., find how to turn a trial version into the complete version).

A better term is, simply, “virus writer”. Boring, but accurate. :slight_smile:

From the Jargon File:

Note that the classes “hacker” and “cracker” are not mutually exclusive. Some crackers are hackers and some hackers are crackers.