Loss of important information, corruption of data and a dent in your credibility are often the unfortunate results of a virus infection. Months of hard work can be destroyed completely and repairing the damage is often a lengthy, as well as a costly process.
But are computer viruses really such a big deal? Rather predictably, if you were to ask the virus writers themselves they would claim that they aren'tThey might tell you that viruses are written in order to demonstrate the loopholes within certain operating systems, therefore encouraging software manufacturers to produce safer systems in the future.
Or perhaps they did it to raise awareness and help users protect themselves against the next threat. All of which offers scant comfort to the post-graduate student whose thesis has just been flushed down the e-toilet or the company forced to reconstruct all of its data.
Events in the last week have shown that justice departments across the world are beginning to ignore such excuses and treat both viruses and their authors seriously.
In the UK, businessman Paul Brogden of Sure Computers sent his rival Colin Baglow of Complete Computers a potentially damaging computer virus. Fortunately, the staff at Complete Computers became suspicious and took action to prevent it causing any damage to the company's network. Judge Jeremy Griggs accepted that it was not a serious attempt at sabotage but nonetheless sentenced Brogden to 175 hours of community service and confiscated his computer equipment.
Meanwhile, it is believed that a man recently arrested in Italy is in fact 'Kryvog', the author of the Vierika email-aware worm which was released earlier this year. The suspect, who lives in the Bologna area, is the first virus writer arrested in Italy. Reports suggest that the Italian legal system intends to come down hard on 'Kryvog'. If true, such attempts to bring virus creators to justice are to be applauded and will hopefully send a strong message to anyone considering writing a virus.
It is encouraging to see that the authorities are beginning to treat virus writers with the degree of severity they deserve. However, whilst what was once seen as a harmless prank is now generally recognised as the criminal activity it actually is, there is still a long way to go.
Companies are still reluctant to report breaches of security to the authorities because of anticipated negative publicity. In addition, the global nature of viruses continues to complicate legal cases. However, increasingly a precedent is being set, and we can only hope that this will continue.
Next edition: 13 April
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