Who are all these people?
By Robert McMillen
Can you hear Jerry Seinfeld say that in your head when you read it? It’s one of my favorite television quotes from the 1990’s and it describes the feelings of Mary G. From Lake Oswego, OR.
Question- “Who are these people who are writing viruses that are constantly messing up my computer? Can a computer spontaneously catch a virus or a bug like a person, or is it all due to miscreants?”
Answer- Lots of people wonder if computers are like people when it comes to getting sick. The term “You’ve got a bug in it” actually refers to computers and other tech equipment in the 1960’s where bugs were attracted to the warmth and magnetism of the computers. Once inside, they ate the rubber coating that protected the wires and shorted out the equipment.
But that’s not really a sickness. I would call it a hardware and cleanliness problem. I’m sure Mary has a clean house. (I traced her IP address and Google Earthed her location just to be sure.)
Computers can break on their own but software accounts for more problems than hardware. Software stops working correctly because of two main reasons. One reason would be bad programming. Programmers (in my opinion) are a sloppy bunch. They work all night and sleep all day like artists. They eat pizza and french fries and suffer from bad teeth. Their milk is a cocktail and their vitamins collect dust. Programming shortcuts cause security problems and vulnerabilities that allow computer viruses to do horrific damage costing billions of dollars every year. The second cause of software not working correctly is virus writers.
Now you know who opens the door to viruses. Let’s talk about who writes them. Virus writers come in several flavors:
Profiteers- This is a pretty easy one. Profiteer virus writers are looking to create zombie computers that will send out their SPAM. These people can no longer send SPAM out themselves because it would be traced back to them. Instead, they infect our computers through emails with virus attachments. Viruses also come from infected websites that load the zombie software onto our computers. These people get paid by the advertisers of the SPAM companies to get their emails out any way they can. Yes, people buy lots of stuff from SPAM which is why these guys do it. They also do it to take control of our computers and gain access to credit card numbers or other personal information to steal our identities.
Government sponsored and terrorist writers- I lump these in the same category because in many cases they are one and the same. The two biggest contributors are China’s government and the Russian mob (the old Soviet government). Our government has been saying this for years and the perpetrators are no longer denying it. You would think that the Middle East would also be a big part of this but they lack the infrastructure and the sophistication at this time. (It’s hard to train the terrorists in computer school when there’s no electricity.) They do it to steal our secrets and sometimes to deface our websites with propaganda. But our NSA also hacks into other government agencies so it’s hard to say we are only the victims. I would just call us the good guys trying to keep the peace (picture flag waving in your mind).
Professional Braggarts-These are the middle aged, heavy smoking, yellow teeth bad guys that are really good at writing viruses. Although thousands of viruses are released every day, only a few of those are completely new viruses. The rest belong in the next category. Braggarts rarely do virus writing for profit. They mostly like to do it for fun and bragging rights. There are a high percentage of programmers in this category because they know what shortcuts are used by sloppy programmers and how to exploit them. They also have funny handles like H!tM@n or $uprDuD3 which they are known by to keep their identity secret. They post their exploits in secret and sometimes public forums that are difficult to trace and often encrypted. Rather than stealing identities, they tend to create zombie computers to cause Denial of Service exploits that make websites shut down. They also cause computers to act erratically or erase data. I remember one virus like this that randomly grabbed word documents and emailed them to everyone in the person’s address book. It happened to the president of an Asian country where his itinerary was sent to lots of people that shouldn’t have had it. It also happened to several American companies where it grabbed and emailed credit card numbers and subsequently posted those numbers to many websites. These guys are rarely caught and can only be subdued by their elderly mothers with whom they usually live.
Script Kiddie- These are the copiers of the pros. They alter well- written professional viruses just enough to call them their own. Here is where most viruses come from. Once an antivirus is written for an already released virus, the script kiddie will tweak it just enough so a new antivirus must be written. Of course they claim they wrote the whole thing themselves. The script kiddie can be thwarted by asking a girl to go out with them and having her actually say yes. If left unchecked they (and their waistlines) will grow into their middle aged counter parts mentioned above.
Well, Mary, now you know who is behind your computer infections. Most are very easy to eradicate if you have antivirus software that’s up to date and installed on your computer at all times. But if you catch a virus that’s never been seen before, you will have a problem. The silver lining to that cloud could come by having the virus named after you. That happened to me and one of my staff when we caught a virus at the Hillsboro Airport several years ago. It took three days and nights with almost no sleep, but with the help of the antivirus writers we finally killed it off, along with many of my brain cells.For more great tips, check back here each week and listen to me on the All Tech Radio show at 9:00 Sunday mornings on AM 1360 KUIK, or listen online at http://alltechradio.com.
If you would like your technical question answered here, just email email@example.com. Even if it doesn’t get answered in the column I will always answer by email.