Viruses, worms, trojans and other stuff

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Virus writers: four general types

( Virus writers belong to one of four broad groups: cyber-vandals, who can be divided into two categories, and more serious programmers, who can again be split into two groups.

Cyber vandalism - stage 1

In the past, most malware was written by young programmers: kids who just had learned to program who wanted to test their skills. Fortunately most of these programs did not spread widely - the majority of such malware died when disks were reformatted or upgraded. Viruses like these were not written with a concrete aim or a definite target, but simply for the writers to assert themselves.

Cyber vandalism - stage 2

The second largest group of contributors to malware coding were young people, usually students. They were still learning programming, but had already made a conscious decision to devote their skills to virus writing. These were people who had chosen to disrupt the computing community by committing acts of cyber hooliganism and cyber vandalism. Viruses authored by members of this group were usually extremely primitive and the code contained a large number of errors.

However, the development of the Internet provided space and new opportunities for these would-be virus writers.Numerous sites, chat rooms and other resources sprang up where anyone could learn about virus writing: by talking to experienced authors and downloading everything from tools for constructing and concealing malware to malicious program source code.

Professional virus writers

And then these 'script kiddies' grew up. Unfortunately, some of them did not grow out of virus writing. Instead, they looked for commercial applications for their dubious talents. This group remains the most secretive and dangerous section of the computer underground: they have created a network of professional and talented programmers who are very serious about writing and spreading viruses.

Professional virus writers often write innovative code designed to penetrate computers and networks; they research software and hardware vulnerabilities and use social engineering in original ways to ensure that their malicious creations will not only survive, but also spread widely.

Virus researchers: the 'proof-of-concept' malware authors

The fourth and smallest group of virus writers is rather unusual. These virus writers call themselves researchers, and they are often talented programmers who devote their skills to developing new methods for penetrating and infecting systems, fooling antivirus programs and so forth. They are usually among the first to penetrate new operating systems and hardware. Nevertheless, these virus writers are not writing viruses for money, but for research purposes. They usually do not spread the source code of their 'proof of concept viruses', but do actively discuss their innovations on Internet resources devoted to virus writing.

All of this may sound innocent or even beneficial. However, a virus remains a virus and research into new threats should be conducted by people devoted to curing the disease, not by amateurs who take no responsibility for the results of their research. Many proof of concept viruses can turn into serious threats once the professional virus writers gain access to them, since virus writing is a source of income for this group.


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