Tuesday, April 14, 2009

CASUALLY MALICIOUS

"The current United States can be defined as an immense accumulation of not terribly acute or attentive people obliged to operate a uniquely complex technology, which all other things being equal, always wins," wrote author Paul Fussell in 1991 for his book, Bad. "No wonder error and embarrassment lurk everywhere, and no wonder cover-up and bragging have become the favored national style."

DD used the paragraph to introduce his non-fiction tale on the computer virus underground in cyberspace, The Virus Creation Labs, three years later.

Virus Creation Labs was filled with characters like Michael Mooney of Winnfield, LA, identified as the creator of the StalkDaily computer worm and its variants used to plague Twitter and its users.

Bereft of any noticeable personality traits except a facility for casual malice and an air that he was the essence of cool, Mooney still fits the ISOO standard of many teenage virus-writers before him.

"When do you plan to deactivate the worm," a teenage editor asked Mr. StalkDaily.

"As soon as they [meaning Twitter] are able to sanitize their fields correctly, or promptly address me to remove it," he replied.

In the early days of virus-writing, many of their authors had the same mentality. They felt the targets of their viruses ought to address them personally, perhaps thanking them for illustrating how stupid they, as the victims, had been. "Would you, please, help me to remove it, oh great one?" they should ask, properly deferential.

From the Virus Creation Labs in 1994: "[Virus-writer] Screaming Radish bent my ear for three hours talking and talking and talking about ... how virus-writers should receive a share of anti-virus software company profits because it was by their actions that consumer products were improved."

Yesterday, StalkDaily Mikey claimed he felt really bad about angering people, contradicting himself in the next emission: "I feel pretty bad about it, but it’s not me that left the vulnerability out in the open."

It's the merciless logic of someone who, if he saw a pile of dry leaves and tinder in your yard would set it ablaze and watch your house catch fire, sadly and with tears in his eyes, because he was bored and you had not properly neutralized all fire hazards. (Need a less severe bit of symbolism? Think someone who exploits anything in the real world with feeble or non-existent security measures, like letting the air out of your tires, then keeps coming back until you lock your car in the garage every night and have a motion detecting spotlight installed in the driveway. Because your tires had a vulnerability that needed to be 'sanitized.')

Because viruses and worms can't be precisely controlled once they're put into the world, the StalkDaily Kid will continue to cause trouble, if even indirectly, for some time. Virus-writers are copyists at heart and they simply take code which has already been successful at creating some level of trouble and use it to create their own minor variations, for the purpose of starting the entire process again and having their bit of the action.

Perhaps the only good news that one can take away from people like Michael Mooney is that there is no shortage of them. Far from being unique or demonstrably superior intellectually, he's just another small sweaty dude in a hoodie who's not inclined to spend time dwelling on the consequences of whatever he has chosen to screw with. There is a silver lining here, of sorts, and it's this: If it were actually possible to sicken, injure or kill via malicious attacks launched through computers and the Internet, instead of merely creating cascading error, embarrassment and loss of time and money, tens of thousands of people would have been in the ground since 1994. And there might not even be an Internet or personal computer as you know it.



DD knows the StalkDaily Kids because, for a time, he fraternized with them. (See here for a bit of a backgrounder published in the Village Voice a few years ago.)

One germane part reads: "For a few years in the early '90s, the Crypt Newsletter published a stream of frequently brutish and malicious programs. Anyone could reconstitute them, easy as powdered milk. Through Crypt, I gathered experience in the applications of digitized badness and gained an ability to see it in the work of others, whether that of teenagers out for kicks or businessmen grasping at ways to retaliate against kids thought to be [pirating music on-line]. Crypt knew the textures and flavors of rotten in the machine world. It published a virtual landmine based on a useful program, only overturned and corrupted to harshly prune the directory tree of a disk. Booby traps were written to show filth to moochers of porn while, in the background, the machine was being fouled. Viruses multiplied slowly and, when finished, either displayed vulgar quotes, logged keystrokes, or played idiotic music."

One of DD's program, the Heevahava virus was simple, taking a half hour to come up with, at best. "[It] mocked the infected by associating them with its name [which meant 'dolt']."

"In one version, it obstructed efforts to unravel its instructions ... Face-to-face, an anti-virus software programmer threatened to punch me in the mouth at a security convention because the code protection had taken him hours to dissect, time he wished to spend with his family."

One can find much more of the same here.



Another chapter on old-timey virus writers.


Coincidentally, DD's Twitter feed

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