The virus I want to see

Originally published 2001 in Atomic: Maximum Power Computing
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


Computers provide people with so many new ways to be ignorant.

Ignorant, not stupid. There are lots of ways to look stupid using a computer, but most of them don't happen because you're really as dense as a neutronium dumpling. They happen because you just don't know what the heck's going on.

This is only going to get worse, if you ask me.

Or better, if you enjoy watching people look stupid.

I've been reflecting on this ever since the halcyon days of Sircam, when I decontaminated a lot of interesting looking file attachments. Clip off the first 137216 bytes, folks, to get the clean original file from an unfortunate Sircam victim's computer. Every now and then some schmuck still sends me this file in order to have my advice, so there's still some chance to use the decontamination trick.

Overall, though, I was disappointed with Sircam.

Sure, it was a big winner as far as longevity goes. Most virus/trojan outbreaks only last a week or three. Hybris ("") e-mails came in a storm when it was young and virile, but it didn't hang on very long.

Sircam was a hardy perennial, by comparison. Right now, Klez is showing similar staying power, but it's a lot less fun.

I've got a broadband Internet connection, so I don't mind being sent giant file attachments by strangers. As long as they're interesting. The problem with Sircam was, and is, that the attachments usually aren't interesting. The people who get the bug generally don't seem to have anything good for it to send me.

The best dirt Sircam ever sent me was a document from a company that helps other companies through receivership. It named a business that hadn't yet announced receivership. I could have gone short on their stock and turned myself into part of an insider trading test case, but I didn't.

Apart from that, it's all been dross. Job application letters. University course listings. Video card drivers. A Word document featuring a French Canadian horticultural club director disporting herself on an armchair. Someone's letter to the editor of a local newspaper. A bill of sale from an asphalt paving equipment vendor. A newsletter from a Weavers and Spinners Guild. Various spreadsheets, the most interesting of which only contained data about pesticide effectiveness and Minimum Detectable Levels in soil and water.

It's just not good enough.

But it will be.

What we need is a competent trojan writer.

Most viruses and trojans are written by inexperienced programmers who go on to pupate and then emerge as useful members of society. Or as proper computer criminals, at least. Not the digital equivalent of an arsonist, which is what you are if you write viruses.

Sircam was written in Delphi, fercryinoutloud. No wonder the darn thing's 134 kilobytes. I remember when the only personal computer virus in the world fit into the boot sector of an Amiga floppy disk, I do. Kids today. I ask you. Where are my pills?

Sooner or later some deranged Proper Programmer is going to create an elegantly coded trojan, with a really fun payload. What I'm waiting for is an automatic groupware feature, so that the trojan can open a person's computer to the world and let anybody anywhere read, and write, their documents.

This can happen already, when people get tricked into installing cDc Back Orifice or SubSeven or something. These fine applications unquestionably have appeal. But they could be more elegant.

Windows XP has promise, in this regard. Only WinXP Professional has the full Remote Desktop feature, but both Professional and Home Edition have Remote Assistance.

Remote Desktop gives you something approaching Back Orifice-style access to a WinXP computer remotely, and lets you fiddle with things as if you were sitting in front of the PC.

Remote Assistance is much the same thing, but it has to be triggered by sending a request for assistance to someone else, via e-mail or instant message. Special file attached to request message, double-click, off you go.

All of this is supposed to be password protected and encrypted and, like, totally secure, dude. But this is Microsoft we're talking about here. They still release major applications, time and time again, with buffer overflow vulnerabilities. It's as if General Motors kept making cars that could be started with a Paddle Pop stick. And, furthermore, an awful lot of WinXP users log into the administrator account by default and don't even use a password for that. So it's not as if there are any filesystem permissions standing in a trojan's way.

I therefore look forward avidly to receiving many, many "MsRCincident" attachments from people with the new BendMeOver.winxp virus, cordially inviting me to have my way with their PC, should I feel so inclined.

In the meantime, though, I'll keep chopping Sircam off the front of the few interesting looking incoming attachments I still get, and hoping for salacious gossip or a murder confession or IfThisGetsOutItCouldBringDownTheGovernment.doc. And dreaming of the day I get read/write access to the computer of someone who, as it turns out, has previously been sending me messages about how to Get A Credit Card Merchant Account or Enlarge Your Penis Today or Buy Kathmandu Temple Kiff or Be A Millionaire Like Others Within A Year.

Man, that's gonna be sweet.

Other columns

Learning to love depreciation

Overclockers: Get in early!

Stuff I Hate

Why Macs annoy me

USB: It's worth what you pay

"Great product! Doesn't work!"

The virus I want to see

Lies, damned lies and marketing

Unconventional wisdom

How not to e-mail me

Dan's Quick Guide to Memory Effect, You Idiots

Your computer is not alive

What's the point of robot pets?

Learning from spam

Why it doesn't matter whether censorware works

The price of power

The CPU Cooler Snap Judgement Guide

Avoiding electrocution

Video memory mysteries

New ways to be wrong

Clearing the VR hurdles

Not So Super

Do you have a license for that Athlon?

Cool bananas

Getting rid of the disks

LCDs, CRTs, and geese

Filling up the laptop

IMAX computing

Digital couch potatoes, arise!

Invisible miracles

Those darn wires

Wossit cost, then?

PFC decoded

Cheap high-res TV: Forget it.


Dan Squints At The Future, Again

The programmable matter revolution

Sounding better

Reality Plus™!

I want my Tidy-Bot!

Less go, more show

In search of stupidity

It's SnitchCam time!

Power struggle

Speakers versus headphones

Getting paid to play

Hurdles on the upgrade path

Hatin' on lithium ion

Wanted: Cheap giant bit barrel

The screen you'll be using tomorrow

Cool gadget. Ten bucks.

Open Sesame!

Absolutely accurate predictions

The truth about everything

Burr walnut computing

Nothing new behind the lens

Do it yourself. Almost.

The quest for physicality

Tool time

Pretty PCs - the quest continues

The USB drive time bomb

Closer to quietness

Stuff You Should Want

The modular car

Dumb smart houses

Enough already with the megapixels

Inching toward the NAS of our dreams

Older than dirt

The Synthetics are coming


Game Over is nigh

The Embarrassingly Easy Case Mod

Dumb then, smart now

Fuel cells - are we there yet?

A PC full of magnets

Knowledge is weakness

One Laptop Per Me

The Land of Wind, Ghosts and Minimised Windows

Things that change, things that don't

Water power

Great interface disasters

Doughnut-shaped universes

Grease and hard drive change

Save me!

Impossible antenna, only $50!

I'm ready for my upgrade

The Great Apathetic Revolution

Protect the Wi-Fi wilderness!

Wi-Fi pirate radio

The benign botnet

Meet the new DRM, same as the old DRM

Your laptop is lying to you

Welcome to super-surveillance

Lemon-fresh power supplies


Internet washing machines, and magic rip-off boxes

GPGPU and the Law of New Features

Are you going to believe me, or your lying eyes?

We're all prisoners of game theory

I think I'm turning cyborg-ese, I really think so

Half an ounce of electrons

Next stop, clay tablets

A bold new computer metaphor

Won't someone PLEASE think of the hard drives?!

Alternate history

From aerial torpedoes to RoboCars

How fast is a hard drive? How long is a piece of string?

"In tonight's episode of Fallout 4..."

How hot is too hot?

Nerd Skill Number One

What'll be free next?

Out: Hot rods. In: Robots.

500 gig per second, if we don't get a flat

No spaceship? No sale.

The shifting goalposts of AI

Steal This Education

Next stop: Hardware piracy

A hundred years of EULAs

The triumph of niceness

The daily grind

Speed kings


Game crazy

Five trillion bits flying in loose formation

Cannibalise the corpses!

One-note NPCs

Big Brother is watching you play

Have you wasted enough time today?

The newt hits! You die...

Stuck in the foothills

A modest censorship proposal

In Praise of the Fisheye


The death of the manual

Of magic lanterns, and MMORPGs

When you have eliminated the impossible...

Welcome to dream-land

Welcome to my museum

Stomp, don't sprint!

Grinding myself down

Pathfinding to everywhere

A deadly mouse trap

If it looks random, it probably isn't

Identical voices and phantom swords


Socialised entertainment

Warfare. Aliens. Car crashes. ENTERTAINMENT!

On the h4xx0ring of p4sswordZ

Seeing past the normal

Science versus SoftRAM

Righteous bits

Random... ish... numbers

I get letters

Money for nothing

Of course you'd download a car. Or a gun!

A comforting lie

Give Dan some money!
(and no-one gets hurt)