Why Youngsters Make Computer Viruses

2 minute read

Why do young people make computer viruses? Because you treat them badly! Imagine this: you’re a nerd, everyone makes fun of you, you’re not good looking, witty, or athletic, and you want to get even. How would you do it? No matter how much you take it out on village folk with your “Sword of a Thousand Sorrows” in World of Warcraft, you’re eventually going to want to do something else that really proves your worth and power. So you focus all your reclusive strength on developing a computer virus. And it works; you make 100,000 computers crash over the course of a month, you hear your virus’ sweet name all over the news, and you get instant bragging rights. It really makes sense. You’re getting back at a society that deserves it and proving you can cause about as much havoc as Godzilla.
So what can we do about this? Is there any way to harness all this computational power for good? Is there a way to help those who are socially inept but technically advanced show their skills and gain recognition? One idea is to have more computing contests: for example, to have Microsoft award $10,000 to whoever can design the coolest new feature for Microsoft Word. This would also provide a monetary incentive, but admittedly lacks the juiciest part of making viruses: doing damage. So another idea is one that’s already well implemented: having open–source software which nerds all over can develop. For young hackers who want to annoy Microsoft, making competing, completely free, software seems to take chunk out of Microsoft’s profits and effectively “stick it to ‘em.”
Also, why are hackers always between the ages of 17 and 26? Why are there so few 40-50 year old hackers? At BYU’s Office of Information Technology, nearly half of all employees are in this age range and experiencing their midlife crises, so the reason can’t be because there are no technologically oriented middle-aged folk. But when they’re presented with the choice of working for 8 hours at their high-paying job, or working for 8 hours receiving only the wages of anarchy, they choose the more profitable one. Whereas when young people are presented with the choice of either eight hours at near-minimum wage or becoming cyber Ghanghis Khans, many choose the latter. And, again, it makes sense. Once they have proven their skills, software designers would be foolish to not hire such a demonstrably talented upstart.
Any economist can tell you that people react to incentives. And the incentives for young, technologically-orientated people to become hackers are often outweighing the deterrents. If we spent less money trying to catch and fight them, and more trying to harvest their brains, this situation could be dramatically changed.

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