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Computer Viruses and Ethics

Eugene Spafford
Purdue Technical Report CSD-TR-91-061
August 1991

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There has been considerable interest in computer viruses since they first appeared in 1981, and especially in the past few years as they have reached epidemic numbers in many personal computer environments. Viruses have been written about as a security problem, as a social problem, and as a possible means of performing useful tasks in a distributed manner. Most users of computers view viruses as annoying or dangerous. Some people, however, claim that (at least some) viruses are beneficial.

This paper begins with a description of how computer viruses operate, and the various ways simple viruses are structured. It then discusses the most common reasons put forth to explain the writing of viruses, and discusses whether those reasons justify the resultant damages.

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