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The virus business

Who is ultimately benefiting from viruses? If profit isn?t the motive then what is? Puneet Mehrotra tries to find answers to these tricky questions.

india Updated: Nov 09, 2005 19:21 IST

The taste of blood, he said again.
Montgomery to Satyr in The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G.Wells

Three computer viruses columns later, my interest in this little coded monster refuses to cease. Each time I call it a day a new issue crops up. Companies lose billions of dollars each year. Anti-viruses companies are booming and bursting with profits with this newfound hen that lays golden eggs. So who is ultimately benefiting from viruses? If profit isn’t the motive then what is?

Stretch the market

"She’d tied his hands behind his back and we were both getting quite horny just watching him stretched out"
The Unusual Guy by Daniel Guy in rubbereva.com

Expanding markets intoxicate. Profits even more. The anti-virus market is growing at a whopping pace. Every news about a virus is followed by an upsurge in profits of the anti-virus companies. The future is even more lucrative. In all probability the virus threat won’t be limited to Microsoft in times to come. Open source is very much a target too. Consider this news on vvnut.com –“Security firms are waiting until Linux gets hit hard by a virus. Although some Linux antivirus software is now available, vendors are waiting for a major attack before pushing their wares.”

Roger Levenhagan, managing director of Trend Micro UK, is reported to have said " The full force of the antivirus industry won't be devoted until Linux gets hit hard by a virus, and then consumers will demand it”

The question is WHO BENEFITS?

Justine Brown in Enterprise Security Today recently wrote “Computer viruses cost businesses and consumers around the world billions of dollars each year. So who -- if anyone -- is profiting from viruses? And if no one is profiting, what is the motivation behind virus creation? The answers are not completely clear. ”

Beneficiary no. 1 - Anti-virus companies

“Silver is not the way. I am way past silver.”
---Alejandro, master of the vampires, to Anita Blake, vampire hunter, as she stabs him with a silver knife, in Circus of the Damned

Norton, Symantec and Trends and numerous other like them owe their very existence to viruses. They maybe have ventured into supplementary products now but the fact remains they are the ones who profited the maximum. The billion dollar empires they have built is thanks to sassers and wonderbugs and plexuses and hundreds of their kin.

They may have profited but it would not be fair to blame them for the viruses. Did we ever blame Glaxo for creating stomachaches and infections or Pfizer (makers of Viagra) for creating impotency? These companies merely created the cure and in all fairness maybe the anti-viruses companies are doing the same.

Beneficiary no. 2 - Programmers romancing the code

"You have too much ego in your Cosmos"
Rudyard Kipling

The programmer. The individual. Is he the one? Is it an ego trip? Well may be if
David Perry, global director of education at Trend Micro is to be believed. Says he "Almost all viruses are written for the same reason that people put graffiti on walls. It's simply a desire to claw their initials into the middle of your hard drive."

In my previous column I pointed out on the motivation of a virus writer. Ranging from psychological factors to an ego boost, to revenge and destruction, to sometimes even positive factors like research. It is also common knowledge many of the virus writers have even employed by large software corporations so the motivation maybe merely employment.

Beneficiary no. 3 – Spammers

“For a few dollars more”
Movie released in 1967 starring Clint Eastwood

Justine Brown in Enterprise Security Today recently said "Yet, recent events have uncovered what may be a new trend: spammers paying virus writers to create worms that plant an open proxy, which the spammer then can use to forward spam automatically. Many suspect this occurred with the SoBig virus."

How this works? Justine points put - Worm authors are using their worms to become spam engines. The worm spreads itself over the Internet and then into people's computers. It doesn't do any damage; it just becomes a spam pass-through -- an e-mail relay. The spammer can then send an address list and a piece of spam, and the person's home computer will send out thousands of e-mails to people all over the world without their knowledge. With increasing numbers of states passing legislation banning spam, and Internet service providers cracking down on those that abuse their systems, worms may be the next-best choice for spammers.

Profits or personal motivation. The question remains answered. Maybe the next virus outbreak will offer some clues to this riddle. Until then keep pondering!

Puneet Mehrotra is a web strategist atwww.Cyberzest.comand editswww.MidnightEdition.comyou can email him on puneet@cyberzest.com

First Published: Nov 09, 2005 00:00 IST