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Some human dimensions of computer virus creation and infection

Andy Bisset, Geraldine Shipton
International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, (2000) 52, pp.899-913
ISSN 1071-5819

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Infection of computer systems by destructive computer viruses is a commonplace occurrence. Consequently, an extensive literature exists concerning the technical means of virus prevention, detection and disinfection. By contrast, in this paper we consider the human dimensions and implications behind the invention and release of computer viruses. We examine and discuss some possible conscious motivations: these include political, commercial and malicious. However, the paper is also concerned with unconscious motivations and goes on to look at possible meanings for these disruptive activities from within a psychodynamic framework based on the work of Melanie Klein. The paper draws upon previously published information about viruses and their makers in order to furnish material for these discussions. Of equal import in understanding the effect that virus infection has upon computer users. A personal anecdote illustrates the disruption to peace of mind brought about simply by the fear of virus infection. We conclude that virus creation means different things for different perpetrators, but that generally it is a destructive act aimed at dismantling what is apparently 'whole' and satisfactory. This reflects the reality that human life involves a constant struggle with processes of destructiveness as well as creativity. Paradoxically, the orderly, constructed world may become stronger through the process of learning and defending against each new virus, but this strengthening of defences may itself inflame the problem. We conclude by considering some concrete consequences for computer users, and areas for future investigation.

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