Virus writing at University: Could we, would we, should we?

Yes, yes, no...

Yes, yes, no...

"Your scientists were too pre-occupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should..." Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park. Forgive the reference to a Hollywood blockbuster, but that line neatly sums up technology's unswerving ability to fail to see beyond theory, feasibility and possibility to the wider issues which exist within society. In science and technology, whether something is possible always takes precedent over whether it's right. To take that statement to the greatest extreme, consider the work of 'father of the atom bomb' Oppenheimer, about whom colleague and fellow scientist Max Born once said: "I wish Oppenheimer had shown less cleverness and more wisdom." Of far less seismic consequence, but still evidence that science and technology continues to fail where self-regulation is concerned, is a story today about Calgary University launching a course in virus writing. This is a classic example of theory taking precedent over practicality or dare we say morality. Yes, it's possible to teach people how to write viruses. Yes, it's possible to advance the methods of creating malware. But is it right? No. David Perry, global director of education at Trend Micro, said: "I don't see there to be any educational value at all. You don't send somebody out to shoot someone so they understand what happens when somebody gets shot." It's an extreme comparison, but he's got a point. The lesson we have learned time and time over throughout history is that if you give somebody the tools they will use them - inevitably - eventually - to the detriment of others. If Calgary University teaches its students to write viruses, then it is an absolute certainty that one day one student will take that theory outside the laboratory conditions and will use it to great and damaging effect. The university is arguing that education is the key here. By gaining a better understanding of how viruses are created and how script evolves, and how social engineering encourages users to activate viruses, Calgary Uni argues that it will be giving the world the next generation of anti-virus experts. Which is noble, but sadly human nature doesn't always work like that. Have your say on this story. Should universities be allowed to teach students to write viruses? Is this progress for the good of society or is it a cyber security nightmare in the making? Email editorial@silicon.com.