Good Viruses?

Some observers have suggested that self-replicating software—viruses and worms—could be put to beneficial use, such as for distributing software, looking for and patching system vulnerabilities, or sniffing out other viruses and destroying them.

Forget it, experts say.

"Every few months, somebody comes up with this 'But can't viruses be used for good?' idea. Well, no, they can't," says Vesselin Bontchev, an antivirus researcher at Frisk Software International in Reykjavik, Iceland. "Viruses, by their inherent properties, take away from the user the control over his or her computer. Nothing good can be achieved this way."

"There's little justification for using techniques like self-replication that are so difficult to control," says security expert Richard Ford, chief technology officer at Cenetec LLC in Boca Raton, Fla. "I'm not sure there's a great deal you can do with viruses that you can't do in another way that is easier to control."

Graham Cluley, a senior technical consultant at Sophos Anti-Virus PLC in Oxford, England, says a few attempts have been made to create "good" viruses. Cruncher, for example, was designed to save disk space by compressing executable files. And the Noped virus was written to search for pornographic materials on PCs and alert authorities when it finds them.

But, Cluley says, it's a bad idea to try to create a benevolent virus for the following reasons:

  • It's unethical, and illegal in many countries, regardless of any benefits.
  • By its very nature, a virus spreads randomly from machine to machine, so there is no way of knowing where it may ultimately go.
  • Even a "good" virus uses system resources such as disk space, memory and CPU time.
  • All programs, including viruses, contain bugs that can have unintended and damaging consequences.
  • "Good" viruses are likely to produce many false positives from virus scanners, costing users in the time it takes to respond to the alerts.
  • Classifying some viruses as "good" will just encourage virus writers to find excuses for creating their viruses.

Malware's Destructive Appetite Grows:


Malware's Destructive Appetite Grows


Good viruses?


Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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