What’s in it for the creators of malware?
By Leo Notenboom
The Question:What monetary gain do malware creators have in creating their nasty stuff? Does someone pay them to do this? Or do they just do it for the sheer enjoyment of wreaking havoc?
It used to be about enjoyment and bragging rights, and I’ll speak to that in a moment.
In recent years, however, the nature of malware has changed dramatically, and you’ve nailed it at the start:
It’s all about the money. Lots and lots of money.
The Past: Bragging Rights
Malware has evolved.
The concept of viruses or self-replicating programs actually originated with early computer researchers, but never put into play.
The first actual viruses were, essentially, pranks or fairly benign proof that viruses could be created. Most simply displayed a message of some sort to indicate that they were present, while infecting other computers through various means.
Interestingly the first virus to be caught “in the wild” (publicly accessible computers and networks) was called Elk Cloner and infected the Apple DOS operating system, and dates back to 1981. It was created by a 15 year old, as a joke.
Things went downhill from there.
As computers became more and more accessible, and networked, hackers of various flavors found the concept of infecting computes with malware challenging, and even began to compete with each other. Less savory elements went so far as to create malware that was destructive, simultaneously raising the stakes of the competition.
The more computers infected, the more data destroyed, the more bragging rights the hacker garnered.
Others, however, saw a different potential. For that, though, we need to veer into the world of spam.
Then Came Spam
Spam is nothing more than unsolicited and unwanted communication, typically in the form of email.
However while the term is recent, the concept predates both the internet and even the telephone. Nope, we’re talking the telgraph here:
The first recorded instance of a mass unsolicited commercial telegram is from May 1864. Up until the Great Depression, wealthy North American residents would be deluged with nebulous investment offers.1
Even then what was to become spam boiled down to what we see today: unsolicited advertising of questionable products.
Or, not so questionable. The first computer spam might be considered an email promoting a new model of Digital Equipment Computer. A fine computer, I’m sure. A not-so-fine approach to promoting it.
Fast forward to today, where an estimated 80 to 90 percent of all email flying around the internet is some form of spam.
This post is excerpted with permission from Leo Notenboom.
About Leo Notenboom
Leo A. Notenboom is the owner of Puget Sound Software, LLC and the Leo in Ask Leo!. Leo has been in the personal computer and software industry since 1979, as a software engineer, a manager of software engineers, and as a consultant. In 1983 Leo joined what was then a medium sized local company called Microsoft and spent the next 18 years in a wide variety of groups working on a wide variety of software. If you're running Microsoft Windows, if you've used a Microsoft development tool or Microsoft Money, or if you've ever purchased a ticket through Expedia, there's a good chance you've been touched by some of his work. And of course, since 2003, Leo has been answering your tech questions on Ask Leo!