Good Computer Viruses: The Future?

Even with all the damage viruses have inflicted over the years, a handful of experts believe that computer viruses could actually be used for good one day. How is this possible? Similar to the ethical worm, these viruses would mainly be used to distribute network patches to repair vulnerabilities. Here is a bit more on the theory.

The Function of a "Good" Computer Virus

First of all, the virus would have to exclude the primary function of a typical virus, which is running on a victimized machine without authorization. The propagation would be similar to the one used for malicious purposes, but instead deliver a good payload, opposed to one that is destructive. Because of this, experts believe that anyone found guilty of distributing a good virus should be charged with the same offense as someone distributing malicious code, though with reduced penalties, as the damage is liable to be not as severe.

However, this supposed good virus would not only spread and execute itself without permission, but also consume bandwidth, disk space, memory and processor cycles. All of these factors could possibly result in the denial of the those resources to system administrators, a condition more commonly termed as a DoS (denial-of-service) attack.

Good vs. Malicious Viruses

Another problem would be distinguishing the good virus from malicious programs. While identifying a known virus is fairly easy with the right technology, separating it from the unknown good code may be difficult. Since a good number of legitimate programs have been known to damage and mistakenly remove files, this ability alone isn't enough to truly identify malware.  Perhaps this good virus would be limited to removing programs, as it can combine its code with an individual program. However, this would certainly be an inconvenience for those developing self-extracting archive software. Assuming this as the major obstacle, how would a good virus distinguish another from a malicious program?  Both would behave similarly with the tendency to damage or destroy other files. One would only hope that creators of these viruses carefully script their codes to identify other good variants, a task that seems difficult or next to impossible when considering polymorphism.

Good viruses would have to be written to near perfection for a number of reasons. If they happen to mistakenly delete software and operating system patches, they would essentially be just as much trouble as malicious viruses. There is also the strong possibly of unscrupulous characters mutating the good virus with evil strains. These new strains are likely to be identified as good viruses, even though they contain a destructive payload, one capable of destroying all other identifiable good viruses.

With so much still in the air, we may find ourselves reflecting on the day when good viruses first invaded our systems, strengthening the malicious epidemic. If these viruses of the future aren't written properly, they could inevitably improve the breed of destructive programs just before being wiped out by variants of their own code. While this is certainly a hot topic, many security experts believe that spreading good viruses could eventually end up causing more harm than good.

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