A sick joke

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 May, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 May, 2000, 12:00am

THE economic costs of the damage caused by the Love Bug virus are truly staggering. It was always almost a certainty that a virus such as this one would sweep through continents, penetrate some of the most sensitive e-mail systems around the globe - bringing them to a halt in some cases - and leave huge financial loss in its wake. But the speed and efficiency with which the Love Bug wrought its cyberspace chaos caught many people off-guard.

The ingenuity of the programme lay in the intrigue it held for recipients; this made opening the insidious application almost irresistible for millions of people. After all, what could look more inoffensive than an apparent joke from an address that, to almost all receivers, was familiar.

Initial evidence pointed to the author living in the Philippines. There are certainly clues to indicate this, among them the reference to a caveman comic character popular in that country hidden in the virus' code. It may yet turn out that the author or authors of the virus were a little too smart to leave such a clue. Time will tell.

Like so many viruses, the Love Bug appears to have been created as little more than a joke, a sick joke, perhaps. But it is doubtful that huge financial losses on a global scale were envisaged.

One of the great attributes of the Internet is its ungovernability. To many people this makes it a tool of empowerment, granting virtually free access to the exchange of ideas and to information to anyone with a PC and a phone line. To others - especially governments - this lack of regulation also represents a threat. Both views are right; and one state of affairs cannot exist without the other.

But whoever the culprit turns out to be, and wherever the virus attack was launched from, one thing is quite clear: he, or she, simply has to be caught.

The temptation for some people to display their computer skills by creating such destructive mechanisms will remain strong. For those with the knowledge and capability to do so, the warped sense of power and the potential demonstration of that power can be awesome.

For a minority it will always be too great a temptation to resist. The only effective deterrent is the certain knowledge that there will be a direct correlation between the havoc caused and the likelihood of the perpetrator being caught.