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Virus Writers: The End of The Innocence?

Sarah Gordon
September 2000

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Earlier research has empirically demonstrated the cyclic nature of virus writing activity: as virus writers "age out", new virus writers take their places. Enhanced connectivity amplifies the existing problem and various technical factors result in new types of virus writers surfacing as the cycle repeats.

However, a new variable has recently been introduced into the cycle: high profile legal intervention. The virus writing community now has experienced visits by concerned law enforcement personnel; there have been arrests and there will be sentencings. New laws are being considered, enacted, and acted upon. Thus, the virus writing scene is no longer a casual pastime of kids on local Bulletin Board Systems.

What has been the impact, perceptually and operationally, of these visits, arrests, and sentencings? In other words, as the virus problem gets more and more "real world" attention, where are we actually going in terms of shaping acceptable behavior in our virtual communities and what, if any, effect are these legal interventions having on the impact of viruses upon user's computers?

In order to produce a scientifically meaningful answer to this question, pre and post intervention data on various aspects of the virus problem have been gathered. We solicited opinions on a variety of topics related to computer viruses and legal countermeasures via e-mail and direct survey. Opinions are not only interesting; they must be considered, as we know the opinions of today shape how people behave in the future.However, we are also concerned with immediate real-world impact. To this end, impact will be examined in terms of viruses found both In the Wild (ItW) and on the World Wide Web (WWW), as a function of time. The data gathered before and after various types of high profile intervention is considered; in particular we are interested in any decrease noted in the graph of virus growth both ItW and on the WWW, and in online references to legal concerns.

An analysis of the data is presented and suggestions for future research are made.

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