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Looking into the mind of a virus writer

Expert: Computer virus writers mostly obsessed males

Expert: Computer virus writers mostly obsessed males

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- Male. Obsessed with computers. Lacking a girlfriend. Aged 14 to 34. Capable of sowing chaos worldwide.

That is the profile of the average computer-virus writer, an anti-virus expert said on Tuesday.

About 1,000 viruses are created every month by virus writers increasingly intent on targeting new operating systems, said Jan Hruska, the chief executive of British-based Sophos PLC, the world's fourth-largest anti-virus solutions provider. "So far, we've seen no indication of decreased interest in virus writing," Hruska told Reuters in an interview.

"Virus writers are constantly looking for new vectors of infection, targeting the vulnerabilities of operating systems to exploit them for their creations," he said.

Hruska said the number of viruses created would continue to climb in the coming years.

In almost all cases, virus writers were computer-obsessed males between the ages of 14 to 34 years, he said.

"They have a chronic lack of girlfriends, are usually socially inadequate and are drawn compulsively to write self-replicating codes. It's a form of digital graffiti to them," Hruska said.

In January, Welsh virus writer and web designer Simon Vallor, 22, was sentenced to two years' jail for spreading three mass-mailing computer viruses that allegedly infected more than 27,000 computers in 42 countries.

Exploiting bugs and flaws

To create and spread cyber infections, virus writers explore known bugs in existing software, or look for vulnerabilities in new versions.

"With more and more new OS (operating system) versions, there will be more new forms of viruses, as every single software or OS will carry new features, and new executables that can be carriers of the infection," Hruska said.

Executables are files that launch applications in a computer's operating system, and feature more prominently in new platforms like Microsoft's Windows 2000 and Windows XP than they did in the older DOS or Windows 3.1, he added.

Earlier last month, the malicious Slammer worm spread across the globe in 10 minutes, nearly cutting off Web access in South Korea and shutting down some U.S. bank teller machines.

The virus, which exploited a flaw in Microsoft's SQL Server database software, caused damage by rapidly replicating itself and clogging the pipelines of the global data network.

The next target for the virus writing community could be Microsoft's .NET platform for Web Services, which involves connecting different computer systems to do business seamlessly over the Internet, Hruska noted.

Virus writers also share information to create variants of the same infection, such as the Klez worm, which has been among the world's most prolific viruses in the last 13 months, he said.

The Klez, a mass-mailing worm that originated in November 2001, propagates via e-mail using a wide variety of messages and destroys files on local and network drives.

"The source code for the Klez could have been made widely available on the Net, and budding virus writers would download the source code, modify, and relaunch it as a different variant. It's one of those viruses that refuse to go away," he said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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