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Virus as an 'Art Form'

Nick at En Banc is cheering the recent MyDoom virus, claiming that "[c]omputer virus design is the great under-recognized art form of the early information age." Let me respectfully dissent. Virus design is the overhyped destructive art criticism of the early information age.

Software design can be an art form, as anyone who's ever seen a few lines of particularly elegant code will appreciate. (Take a look at the source for this page for an obvious counterexample.) Good software gets every level of what it does correct: the code is commented and readable, the design is fit for the purpose the user requires, and as much as possible it fits the user's preconceived notions of how the program should work. Mediocre software is easy, but well-designed software shows signs of love.

Viruses, however, don't build. They don't serve a function for a user, they don't expand the functionality of other software--indeed, they do nothing for anyone. Instead, they exploit 'weaknesses' in software that already exists. Many of these weaknesses form the backbone of functions that are quite useful or artful in and of themselves. (Some of Microsoft's biggest security holes have been engendered by attempts to make sharing of information easier between non-technical users.) And because developers have to secure their software against anti-social jerks a few steps above script kiddies, the cost to build the real pieces of art rises.

MyDoom in particular isn't art but art criticism. If it has a statement or says anything at all, it's that (a) anyone using MSOutlook deserves to be preyed upon for not having sufficient security, and (b) SCO (the firm that is the target of the worm's denial of service attack) is evil. The first is an act of immature arrogance: "You aren't a Linux fanatic like me, so you deserve what you get." The second is what Nick calls "mob justice," though it's orchestrated by a mob of one, appropriating the time and services of millions of unconsenting users.

Such things shouldn't be dignified with the title 'art form.' Destroying the artwork of others (particularly, as MyDoom does, in order to make a political point against a party you disagree with) isn't art, it's vandalism, theft, and in the case of viruses that cause data loss, destruction. It leads to the expenses that vandalism brings to the real world: bars on windows, steel shutters on stores to make sure they don't get covered with graffiti. These viruses aren't particularly clever, they're parasitic upon the talents of others, and are acts of such moral bankruptcy that they deserve nothing approaching the compliment of 'art.'


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You have incorrectly attibuted authorship to PG. It was my post. :)
Yeah, I double-posted it, too. And managed not to fix it in the second post. :( Fixed now.
Hehe. I've responded in an update, in which there wasn't an appropriate occassion to say: point well taken on the "mob justice" bit. "Vigilante justice" wasn't appropriate either, so "mob justice" was the closest term I could think of to describe the act of taking personal justice illegally into one's own hands.
In what sense justice? Writing and releasing a virus is one of the lower things people can do. If I can identify the culprit, round up a gang of similarly minded people and beat him to death with his keyboard is this too mob justice, and - if I make a good speech to rouse them can I too be considered to be perpetrating a wow crime?

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