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Interview with Ralph Burger

SPTH
Ready Rangers Liberation Front [7]
May 2006

1
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Original text (in german)

About Ralf Burger

Ralf Burger lives in Germany and has been one of the first virus writers, back in 1987. He has written a very popular book called "DAS GROSSE COMPUTERVIREN BUCH". In 1992 he stopped discovering viruses. Today, he is a one-man-company, doing security and Linux. His homepage: http://burger-ag.de/

1.) In 1987, you have been one of the pioneers, who have talked about computer viruses and released their source-codes. Where have you heared about computer viruses and why have you started to research them?

Because of an article in “Spiegel” about Cohen’s work. As I’ve become an independent worker that time, work has been rare, so I had time for it. And I’ve just been interested in that topic.

2.) Other researches about that topic were censored. Juergen Kraus’ article is still unknown today. Why have there been so much secrecy, and why were you able to release your information anyway?

I don’t think that it was deliberate censorship. Well – of course some things have not been shared as fast as today. I think in most cases it has been ignorance. Some computer scientific journals as CHIP or CT did not want to talk about that topic. Thought it is nonsense (because they did not understand it) or feared that due to negative reports about viruses the new developing market for computer magazines will disappear. That time I’ve met an employee of Data-Becker Publisher at CeBit who asked me: "Why don’t you do a book about it?"

3.) In your book "Das grosse Computervirenbuch" you have released beside of your own source codes, also source of other persons (Bernd Fix, M. Vallen, ...). How did you get contact to other researchers of that critical topic "computer virus" in spite of cencorship?

As there has not been an Internet as we know it today and Modems (which were illegal, of course) were traded at a price of 2000-3000 DM, there have not been that much possibilities. Most contacts have been created at the Congress of CCC.

4.) According to yourself, you have been worked with computer viruses until 1992. That time already a small virus writing scene has been formed in the underground. What did you think about that development?

I’ve been fascinated about the developers’ creativity and the humour. The bootsector viruses, the beautiful Amiga-viruses and the funny “Autumn foliage” virus (who made the letters falling down the screen) were really impressive.

5.) Why did you stop to investigate computer viruses, and what have you done later?

Hostility and the commercialisation (connected with aggressiveness) of the market. The warning of the BSI about continuing publish about computer viruses. Lawsuits with participation of my "special friends" Freiherr von Gravenreuth and Prof. Brunnstein. The lake of possibilities to communicate. But most important: it has not been worthwhile anymore. One will not gain control of the thing. Not with this computers and not with this operation systems. There was no Linux yet, and Unix was enormous expensive. And when I’ve been ordered by a nearby company, I was able to choose: Continue writing viruses or doing something productively.

6.) Have you ever had moral doubts because of your work? In the end, your book has opened that topic for a mass of people, and has helped people writing viruses and, moreover, spreading them.

Moral doubts? Because of spreading information? No way.

7.) At that time, in 1987, have you thought that computer viruses could become such a major problem as they are today?

I anticipated something bad, but that it would be that bad I did not thought about. I thought there would be an different behaviour of computing, and, moreover, better operation systems. But I was wrong.

8.) What do you think about today’s computer viruses?

They are not relevant for me. I’m using an operation system which is incompatible to nearly all computer viruses. But it is funny when such a thing infects the computer of a customer, and is just recognized because it removes the virus scanner first. ;-)

9.) Would you start to research that topic again with the knowledge of today’s situation?

Everything about that topic has been said. Let’s talk about the truth: Last 30 years computers have not had a significant increase of power. Already in the 80s computers were used for bookkeeping, writing letters, watching movies, listening to music and for communication. Already the Amiga could make noise. Today, I also can do the bookkeeping, writing letters, watching movies or communication. It has become easier, but these are no real innovations.

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