"Hi! How are you? I send you this file in order to have your advice See you later. Thanks"--Text of e-mail message that accompanies files spreading the W32.Sircam.worm@mm virus.
Let me begin today's column with a response to the virus creator: How am I? I was fine until I got 18 copies of your virus over the weekend. I am still fine because Norton AntiVirus is smarter than you are. And my advice to you is this: Learn to write more gooder, as this message makes you look like a dope, and please kill yourself. Just not in that order. See you later. Thanks.
What bugs me most about viruses isn't just that they exist, but that most of them are so stupid. Like this one. Granted, it doesn't say much about the IQ of people who'd open a file from someone they don't know with that as the message body, but running your PC is already enough of an SAT test without new challenges from bogus e-mail.
Having thought about this while making quite certain all my machines had current virus protection on Saturday, I have developed what I think is a modest proposal for dealing with the problem of computer viruses.
My solution, even implemented properly, would not completely solve the virus problem, but it would encourage virus authors to greatly increase their skills, weed out the virus writer wanna-bes, and tremendously raise the stakes for those who would ruin our computers for their own entertainment.
My proposal is simple: When you find a virus author, kill him (or her). I don't really care how this is accomplished, but will offer some suggestions before explaining why I think the punishment makes sense.
- The court system. There is, of course, the judicial method. This involves real evidence, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, juries, endless appeals, etc. I read somewhere that taking Tim McVeigh from arrest to trial to the Death House cost something near $90 million. Virus writers aren't worth this investment. We need something less expensive.
- The Wild West system. "Wanted: Dead or Alive" has some attraction to me, especially since there seem to be a number of virus writers who live in second- and third-world countries, away from the long arm of American justice. For the cost of a nice Lotto or Publisher's Clearinghouse prize we could let someone else solve the problem for us and contribute to the income of some deserving citizen in a place most of us never hope to visit.
- The deterrence by force approach. While Osama bin Laden seems to still be among the living, I suspect the 70 cruise missiles we launched on his various hide-outs following the bombings of our embassies in Africa would make a real impression on the computer science building of some cut-rate university that doesn't keep its students too busy to launch an e-mail virus that shuts down whole corporate networks.
Why am I suggesting death as the only appropriate penalty for virus writers? I have three reasons.
- Reason No. 1: If you could actually add up the costs of time and effort lost to viruses, of files that must be recreated, of antivirus measures and the cost of implementing them, and of the pain and hassle it adds to everyone's computing experience, you'd find that a single major outbreak is a huge economic crime. The time people spend having to think about viruses is time stolen from their lives, a blight on their soul and creativity, and a reason not to believe in the essential goodness of humanity. I say we should kill those responsible.
- Reason No. 2: I am a big believer in helping out Darwin whenever possible. I can understand, even feel sympathy for people who kill someone in anger. Bank robbery seems obvious enough, since banks are, as Willie Sutton said, "Where the money is." But I don't understand senseless crimes, like launching computer viruses or spray-painting your street name on an overpass. Culling these people would be good for the gene pool.
- Reason No. 3: Killing virus writers would reduce the seeming need that exists in this country to kill people for other crimes. Perhaps if we let a certain former Texas governor order the killing of virus writers, he might refrain from killing retarded adults, people who committed their crimes as juveniles, truly repentant offenders who'd happily spend the rest of their lives behind bars giving church services, a disproportionate number of people from ethnic minority groups, and the occasional potentially innocent person.
Given these benefits, I see no reason why virus authors, once identified, should be allowed to live. Or maybe it's just that I am getting tired of the phone calls from people wondering how they stop this new virus. As I said yesterday: Buy some antivirus software. Or a gun.