I understand the purveyors of malware, sort of, the same way I get why people spraypaint walls or put chewing gum where people can step on it. At their most virulent, I suppose the digital vandals aren't that far from the anarchists who placed bombs in train stations, ostensibly as a philosophical or political statement, but really because they were nuts who wanted to hurt people.
In my imagination, I can certainly picture the guys who authored the "I Love You" virus sitting around and chortling about the people they stung with their idiotic handiwork a few years ago. I was one. I was doing what I always did at that time: downloading music while I worked. The champions of repression and copyright protection had recently swung into action and killed the peer-to-peer version of Napster that was my main joy back then. This seemed weird to me, I recall. How was anybody being hurt by me downloading 50-year-old tracks that were nowhere available on CD or vinyl? Anyhow, that ship sailed, and Napster was shuttered, and I found myself on Kazaa.
I had inputted the name "Van Morrison" into the search window and come up with a nice roster of tunes, selected them all and hit Enter. Then all hell broke loose.
I've never seen anything like it. My screen flipped to Outlook and a rolling torrent of messages began scrolling down my display like water over a sluice, e-mail being ejected from my outbox at a terrifying rate. The outgoing messages all bore protestations of my love for the recipient, which I saw to my horror included the CEO, the President, the CFO and every vice president, executive vice president and senior executive vice president in the organization, as well as hordes of people I did not know.
In six seconds I ascertained what had happened and turned off my computer. In that tenth of a minute, I later learned some 5,000 e-mails were delivered. The people who received them immediately knew two things: 1) I had been doing something I shouldn't have been doing on my computer that had nothing to do with company business and 2) I was a stupidhead who couldn't quietly manipulate his hardware without getting caught.
Fortunately people already knew this about me, pretty much. I got a lot of nice e-mail afterwards that I treasured. My favorite was from our CEO at the time, a notoriously tough, no-nonsense dude, who wrote me back, "Thanks, man. I love you, too." The least amused were the IT guys, who as usual had to clean up the mess.
Flip forward to this morning, when I got an e-mail that said:
Please read: Big Virus coming
I checked with Norton Anti-Virus, and they are gearing up for this virus. I checked Snopes and it is for real!! Get this E-mail message sent around to your contacts ASAP.
You should be alert during the next few days. Do not open any message with an attachment entitled 'POSTCARD,' regardless of who sent it to you. It is a virus which opens A POSTCARD IMAGE, which 'burns' the whole hard disc C of your computer. This virus will be received from someone who has your e-mail address in his/her contact list. This is the reason why you need to send this e-mail to all your contacts It is better to receive this message 25 times than to receive the virus and open it.
If you receive a mail called' POSTCARD,' even though sent to you by a friend, do not open it! Shut down your computer immediately.
This is the worst virus announced by CNN. It has been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus ever. This virus was discovered by McAfee yesterday, and there is no repair yet for this kind of virus. This virus simply destroys the Zero Sector of the Hard Disc, where the vital information is kept.
COPY THIS E-MAIL, AND SEND IT TO YOUR FRIENDS. REMEMBER: IF YOU SEND IT TO THEM, YOU WILL BENEFIT ALL OF US.
At this point, it can be said that I didn't just fall off the turnip truck. I went to Google, which sent me to the excellent Urban Legends site at about.com. That's right. There is no such virus. Sure, there are a host of mean, destructive Trojans, mugwumps, weasels and other malware that people have devised to attack you via greeting card. And you should watch out for them. This, however, is not one of them.
So we're back to my original question. What kind of numbnuts gets his jollies creating bogus information that simply scares other people to no good purpose?
Isn't that the job of financial journalism?