The myth of the pimples-ridden malware author

Overheard in an Internet Cafe recently:

(guy storms in and purposefully walks towards the counter)

Distressed guy: “Hi, I have a virus on this USB stick and I can´t use it, can you clean it for me?”

Internet Cafe attendant: “…”

Distressed guy: “Look, I didn´t do anything funny, just because some little c*** has nothing better to do but write a virus I can´t access my files now!”

I take issue with this statement. It regurgitates the popular misconception that malware (also known as a virus, a worm, a trojan) is software written by someone who hates mankind. It is their effort to take blind revenge on the world, to mindlessly harm everyone for no real reason other than malice.

Er… no.

Malware takes effort to create. This means skill, patience, equipment and time. All this means money.

Slightly paraphrasing Mikko Hypponen, most malware is created for three reasons:

  1. Money via criminal activities. See Peter Gutmann’s figures in his “The Commercial Malware Industry” from years ago to glimpse at just how much money is involved in this global underground market.
  2. Idealism – which creates the composite term “hacktivism”. Groups like Anonymous fall in this category.
  3. Control – this is state-level information warfare waged either against other nation-states or against the state’s citizens.

Some years ago, malware might have been an annoying prank of kids who had a gripe against the world.

This is no longer the case. Things are far more serious now.

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