How did you get started…
This is a short version. I’ll flesh it out later. Someone gave my son a computer. He didn’t like it. I liked it. I took it for my own.. Someone gave me a modem. It was for a different type of computer. I got some books on how modems and computers work, and rewired the modem and made it work.
That first system was a Tandy COCO, and an Apple modem. I knew you could use computers to communicate, but had no idea how. So, I got a magazine called “Rainbow” for the Tandy COCO, and set out typing in a very long telecommunications program. I didn’t have any storage media, so I had to retype it in each time I wanted to try to dial out. Finally I was able to save it on cassette tape, hooked up to a big old stereo. That made things a little easier. I got the number of this BBS called Owls Nest (sysop: Bill Sagendorf) and called it. I still remember the words appearing on my screen: “Can you read this”. It was cool. I was hooked.
From there, I wrote my own BBS, called Network IIXXX. Our motto was “We Never Sleep” and that was just about the truth. I had callers from all over the world and it was not long before I discovered “The Internet”. It was cool. I was really hooked. Someone gave me (note: they gave it to me. they did not give it to me and continue to use it, they gave it to me so it was strictly legit) their telenet access, which enabled me to start poking around the Internet. I did this probably 18 hours a day (on a slow day).
I got into OS9, then UNIX, then got an IBM PC (which came with a virus, which is how I got involved with viruses). When I got the virus, no one could help me (sort of like with the first computer, so I went out and found out all I could about them. I became interested in the people who wrote them, and started just keeping track of what was going on. Eventually, I saw some real discrepancy between what the antivirus guys said about the ‘bad guys’ and what I was observing. So, I decided to do some scientific research and see if there was any actual data to support the hypothesis that “all the bad guys are unethical”. There wasn’t. The paper got noticed, and before long I was writing more papers, giving talks, winning awards, and being recruited by this or that group. And so here I am.
Why do people write viruses, anyway? ?
I have a lot of papers online about this. Please check the papers section of this site. I’ll write “the short answer” here at a later date.
What’s the best antivirus product?
Why, it’s Norton Antivirus of course. But, remember, I work for IBM Research and we are currently co-developing technologies with Symantec, the makers of Norton Antivirus.
The truth is, even if I didn’t, I’d still choose Norton because it is fast, effective and has great technology built in.
You seem to know an awfully lot about this stuff. Are you (or were you?) a hacker?
The simple answer is “no”. Hacking is illegal, etc., and I don’t do things that are illegal. But the more complex answer is “yes” and “no” . At the time when I got involved with computers, there weren’t all the rules and laws about where you could go online. To go all those places and meet all the people, you had to find your way around. There weren’t any point and click roadmaps. So, I taught myself. I learned all about systems and networks, and I went lots of places and I met lots of computers (and people). My main online name was “theora’, and I still use it from time to time.
Who is the Dark Avenger?
He was a virus writer from Bulgaria. OK, you were asking for more than the obvious. I’m not going to comment on this other than to say lots of people have worn the cloak of Dark Avenger. It was a along time ago. There is a lot to be learned from that whole era, but to comment on him – well, I agreed with him I wouldn’t do it, and so this is all I am going to say.
Why haven’t you written a book about all of this?
I’ve been in a few books. “Facts on File” profiled me in their series on careers for young people. “Cybershock” reprinted a chunk of some of my findings on the virus writing subculture. “Computer Crime: Phreaks, Spies and Salami Slicers” by Karen Judson (ISBN 0-7660-1243-3″ talks about my work in ethics and computing. “The Tangled Web” discusses my work, and I’ve advised a few movies and TV things too. But, while I do think a book about my adventures of the past 15 years would be a one-of-a-kind read, I simply don’t have the patience to write it all down.