Millions of computer users are wondering how to protect themselves against the wave of viruses that are threatening their machines. I have a suggestion.
First, they should remember that these viruses don't spring from nature. They are little computer programs created and sent on their way by people who are brainy, malicious and arrogant.
It doesn't seem to bother them that the more destructive of the viruses could take lives if, say, a hospital's computer programs were wiped out. Or that a business, its records suddenly destroyed, could be shut down or ruined.
So the question is, how do you find the creators of the virus programs?
Because they are arrogant, it's likely that they want someone to know what a clever thing they have done. They won't hold a press conference, but chances are they will brag to a trusted friend or acquaintance or fellow hacker.
It is sad, but the world is full of snitches. Look at John Gotti, the nation's biggest Mafia boss. There was a time when it was unthinkable for even the lowest-level Mafia soldier to blab. But now Gotti has to sit in court while his former right-hand man tells about how they had people whacked.
So if Mafia figures can be persuaded to tattle, is there any reason to believe that nerds have a greater sense of honor and loyalty?
Of course not. But how do you get them to do it?
Money. Maybe it doesn't buy happiness, but it will buy information. Cash on the counter has persuaded people to betray their country, their employer and even tell all to The Star tabloid.
The computer industry has tons of money. Some of the fastest growing corporations are those that pump out machines and programs that permit people to make a major project out of a chore they could do just as well with a $5 ledger.
So these companies could use the petty cash fund to place ads in the computer magazines and on the electronic bulletin boards.
The ads could say something like: "A $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of virus authors."
Fifty thousand smackers will buy a lot of floppy disks, DOS, RAM, ROM, megabytes and even gigabytes. As well as a hot sports car, a new wardrobe, and a vacation at a Club Med for the pallid nerd who wants to reinvent himself.
A high-powered computer would be needed to keep up with all the tips coming in from the techie bounty hunters.
The next question would be what to do with virus makers once they have been caught. And that's the key to putting an end to the problem: something that could be posted on those electronic bulletin boards that might cause an aspiring virus-maker to go take a brisk walk instead.
A judge would sit and listen to an attorney who would say something like this:
"Your honor, what we have here is an otherwise fine young man from a good family. His father is a brilliant scholar, and the son will someday be the same.
"What he did was no more than an intellectual prank, a cerebral challenge of sorts. Like the man who climbed Mount Everest because it was there, he created the virus and sent it forth because it was there.
"But he is not a criminal. Until now, the worst thing he ever did was give the family cat a bit of Angel Dust to see if it would run across the ceiling.
"So, your honor, we ask that you consider this lad's future usefulness to society. Why, he has an IQ that qualified him for Mensa. What is to be gained by dimming so bright a light?"
Then, we can hope, the judge might say something like this:
"Yes, I am impressed by the defendant's brain power. And I expected you to ask me to give him a slap on the wrist.
"However, he is not a child. He is an adult. And I would think that so brilliant a grown man would know better than to amuse himself by screwing up the lives of total strangers.
"It's as if he hid inside these businesses and institutions until they were closed and everyone had gone home. Then he came out and went through every file cabinet and drawer and shredded or burned every bit of useful information he could find.
"Now, counselor, what would you and your law partners say if some street mope did that to your law firm -- crept in and destroyed every document in your offices? Including the names of clients who owe you money. Hah, you would be in here asking me to hang him from a tree.
"So don't give me that smart kid from a good family routine. He is a self-centered, insensitive, uncaring, arrogant goofball. He didn't give a second thought to the chaos or heartbreak he would cause to an adoption agency, a hard-working businessman or a medical clinic.
"Therefore, I sentence him to the maximum sentence the law allows in the local jailhouse, which is really a terrible place, filled with all sorts of crude, insensitive hulks.
"Bailiff, please get the defendant up off the floor and administer some smelling salts.