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Interview with Sarah Gordon

Gigabyte
Coderz zine #2
2001

1
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First of all, what do you occupy with lately?

Do you mean with work? Currently I work in several areas: research on the phenomenon of "cyberterrorism", testing and product certification standards/methods, and ongoing research in areas of ethics/technology (that is where the virus writing bits fit in). I do (limited) seminars and presentations on the topics; most of the research is mid/analysis stage now.

In "spare time", I cycle, swim, sing, and play rhythm instruments with our band, and play piano and do arranging of music sometimes - and teach a dance class once a week (ballet/modern/jazz). Finally, I work in counseling office at least one evening a week.

What are your hobbies?

I am not very interested in "recreation", although I as I mentioned I do like to swim, and I sing in a band. I guess these are "hobbies", although I do them for a specific purpose rather than to "relax". I've never been very good at relaxing.

How old were you when you first used a computer and how did it happen?

:). I was in my mid-20s when I first used a computer. Someone had an apple computer, and it interested me. I never did very much with it though. It was not until I got the tandy coco that I really got interested. Although, it may interest you to know that as a child of 6 or 7, I used to take apart telephones and try to build alternate switches and ways to communicate. I suppose this was a harbinger of things to come.

How many hours a week do you spend with your computer?

Too many, but less than I used to. Now, probably 12 hours day on week days, 5 on Saturday and 3 or less on Sundays. I used to spend ~20 hours a day, every day, online. I'd advise anyone doing this to stop now, before they waste countless hours of their life.

How many hours online?

When I am on computer, I am always online. Even when I am not, I am permanently dialed in - so I guess you could say I've been hardwired in since the beginning. Even now as I type this I am working at same time on several other computers, translating test results, doing research.

Has occupying with computers ever influenced your life?

I have met a lot of really nice people online, so computers have been a positive influence. On the other hand, in early days I was obsessive with the computers, and this meant I wasted a lot of (precious) time. Life is a gift, and we should _spend_ it - actually think about what we do with our time, not just 'use it up' without thinking.

Do you have a favourite virus? If so, which one?

I used to have Oropax, because I liked the music of it. Nomenklatura was interesting to me. ADMworm was interesting in late 90s. Now, nothing is so very interesting, but that is probably more a function of my interest being elsewhere than in the viruses being less interesting.

How many virus writers have you talked to?

Probably over the past years maybe up to 200? I don't keep track anymore. I don't talk to a lot of virus writers now - but I do keep conversations with a few that I like (as people). I don't think of them as "virus writers", you know. I mean, that's just one part of who they are.

How many hackers?

Many more :). But that's to be expected, don't you think? I mean, that's the culture I came from, and where most of my friends have come from. I don't keep track of it - because it was just the "norm" for me. :)

How many female virus writers and hackers have you met?

It's hard to remember for sure. I think a safe estimate would be less than 15 female virus writers, less than 100 female hackers. There are many more female hackers than this - this is just how many I met personally.

How old was the youngest hacker and/or virus writer you've talked to?

Eleven.

And the oldest?

In their late fifties.

Do you ever get quarrels with other AVers because you talk to VXers?

A (very) few AV people are shortsighted enough to think that no research is needed - after all, they already know it all :). But mostly, I think people have appreciated learning the facts/truth about the vX counter-culture.

Remember, a quarrel requires at least two people - and for me, fighting with someone because they don't like what I do is not worth the time nor trouble. As a friend (also AV guy) used to tell me regarding some AV guy that liked to hassle me, "Don't wrestle with pigs. You get dirty and the pig enjoys it".

Imagine you had a son or daughter and you found out he/she was a virus writer.. How would you react?

I'd hope that I'd have a good communication with him/her all along, and that the news would not be some big shock to me. But in any case, I'd want to talk with him/her about things like the potential consequences of virus writing. How I'd do that would depend on how old he or she was at the time. Obviously you can't talk to a 15 year old the same as you would a 9 year old.

What would _you_ do?

Look, I understand real well that its cool to discover the process of self-replication. Anyone who tries to say its not pretty neat thing to comprehend is not being straight. So I couldn't say "oh, that's really stupid" or anything, because it's not - its very interesting. But I'd want to talk with them about why it is not a good idea. And hopefully offer some suggestions of things that are more useful (and fun).

Did you ever stop a virus writer by talking to them?

I never stopped a virus writer - they stopped themselves :) Now, some have told me they quit because as a result of our dialogue they realised some things about viruses and themselves, and so they decided to stop.

Does it often take long to convince virus writers to talk to you?

Generally I don't try to do any convincing. I just say what I have to say, be who I am, and they can choose or not. The disappointing or frustrating thing is when they don't bother to read what I've said or written and just assume that because I'm "grown up" and work for a security company, I have some "attitude" about how bad they are.

When that happens, usually they end up talking to someone who knows me (sometimes someone that I have met in person), and they realise they should not have made such a snap judgement. They then go read what I actually said, and calm down.

Do they ever contact you, instead of you them?

Often, yes.

Yes, sometimes. I was having dinner with some friends, and the grandmother was there. She was staring at me and then said "You've been on TV" (this was after the CNN profile thing.) That felt weird. And sometimes after some newspaper thing, people mention it. It was the most bizarre after church one Sunday these two guys came up to me and said "Hey, I was watching TV this morning and all of a sudden there you were and here you are now".

What's your favourite city?

I don't actually like cities :). But if I had to go to one, I think London because there are lots of neat things there.

What kinda music do you listen to?

Depends on my mood actually. No one special "type".

What's your favourite food?

Hmm. I don't really "like" food - it's just a necessity. I guess if I had to choose something to eat, it would be mashed potatoes. And chocolate of course.

Do you watch TV a lot?

Not really. I am too busy to watch it much. I do like to see the weather channel, and (sometimes) star trek (episodes with "Q"). I used to like Iron Chef, but its become boring to me now. I'm not much interested in television.

Anything else you wanna mention?

Sure :). If you feel you must write self replicating programs, please be responsible with them. Don't let them out of your personal control, because if you do, and someone else does something bad with it, you have a moral (and sometimes legal) responsibility for it.

I could say a lot about a lot of things, but as there is this virus focus here, I'll just leave it at that :)

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