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The computer virus as a tool of individual empowerment

The Flim-Flam Man
CryptNews [5]
September 1992

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It's time to start thinking in real terms about the computer virus as a tool for individual empowerment.

To avoid an overly windy essay, I'm going to focus on two real human examples.

The first deals with a woman in her mid-40's who works for a small specialty book publishing firm in the Lehigh Valley of eastern PA. (I've kept the descriptions of individuals deliberately vague to protect them from inappropriate attention.)

In early 1992 she found herself sexually harassed in the workplace by her boss, a man for whom she felt no attraction. Unable to tell him to bug off, and knowing that in a small business there was no place to turn but the street, she became enraged. So she planned a late night smash-and-grab raid into the office to delete certain key files on his personal computer. This she did. The next day her boss was confused, frustrated and angry over the loss of his precious data. He did not hip to the fact that his work had been sabotaged by the woman quietly smiling in the next room.

Given the opportunity to use a computer virus for the job, it is not totally unreasonable to assume this woman would have seriously entertained the idea of using it as a tool of redress. In any case, she was a computer vandal. And not the computer vandal most corporate stiffs like to paint: a maladjusted, teen or disgruntled, shirking whiner. Rather, she was somewhere in between; a reasonable worker pushed deep into a corner. As further food for thought: Do you think that the use of a computer virus, in this instance, would have been bad?

A second example: mid-level staffers at a large metropolitan corporation in eastern Pennsylvania have had to grapple with the installation of a project implemented on a Macintosh desktop system. The junior technical administrator put in charge of bringing the system online has not proven up to the challenge. After two years of work, the system crashes daily, eats work, locks unpredictably and forces continued overtime on staffers who have to work around its shortcomings. The technical administrator is openly hostile to any suggestions from staffers who are compelled to use the system daily. The administrator's supervisor will not listen to suggestions from underlings that more expert technical help is necessary. The project has become a costly, political hot potato; its failure would mean the rep of the management team that committed to it two years previously.

At this point the staffers who must work with the non-functional system daily have begun entertaining the idea of inserting a Mac virus into the already deeply screwy system. The rationale for use is that it could force a system crash which the current technical administrator could not quickly remedy. Such a disaster might break the logjam of upper management arrogance and force the consultation of someone better suited to programming of Macintosh's. They also feel that since viruses are anonymous, the blame would most likely fall on the local administrator's head for allowing it to happen.

This is another graphic example of reasonable workers who feel they've been backed into a corner by leaders who seem dumb as stumps. The computer virus is viewed by the victimized as their road to empowerment.

These workers are smart enough to realize that there is no guarantee that a bad situation will be made better by a virus. But they do think that throwing a monkey wrench into the system, bringing it to a noisy, ugly halt, might buy some breathing room.

As told here, I'm sure most readers will feel some empathy for the people above. It's not a stretch to think of someone in the same tight spot. And that is why, as the gap between managers and grunts in a our technological society becomes wider, the computer virus or rogue program will be seen more and more as one of the tools for empowerment.

Anyone who works in the corporate security field should be scared white at this prospect. Because the hardest 'virus-droppers' to fight will be the the honest, determined employees, who become progressively alienated by the cynicism and indifference from an organization they work for.

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