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Virus Censorship

DecimatoR
40hex [11]
June 1993

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Recently in the comp.virus echo of Usenet there was a discussion entitled "40 Hex Censorship". A few people were complaining about this magazine being censored by the anti-virus community, and on Internet itself. I found this thread interesting, and figured I'd voice my opinions on it here, where it counts.

As many of you know, 40-Hex is one of the most popular underground mags. I was actually told by a European Anti-Virus researcher that 40-Hex was regarded as the best VX magazine in existance by most of the anti-virus community. Of course, I was quite happy to hear this. (Who wouldn't be?) But I also couldn't help wondering, how could a magazine like 40-Hex, with no real distribution system, be the most popular? It got me thinking, and I realized that we provide, in great detail, some of the most recent news, and developments in the virus community. Anyone can publish source code and hex dumps, but we take it a bit further. 40-Hex is more than just a how-to magazine, it's a publication which delves into details, world wide developments, and never-before distributed source code with new and interesting programming techniques. It's more than a source of viruses; it's a source of information.

This also got me thinking, about the actual distribution system of 40-Hex. Each issue is distributed on two, and only two bulletin boards - Digital Warfare and Liquid Euphoria. From there, it is passed rapidly across the country, and, soon after, around the world. Unfortunately, 40-Hex never seems to make it to a large portion of the population who want it - the folks who hang out on in the comp.virus echo of Usenet. A few issues back, I posted a note there, asking for input on a survey I was conducting. Over half of the replies I received didn't even answer my questions - all the folks wanted to know was where could they get their hands on 40-Hex? After a little digging, I found 2 sites which allowed 40-Hex to be posted for anonymous FTP. Within a month, both sites had removed the magazine. Censorship? You bet. See, the anti-virus folks on Usenet feel that this magazine is bad. After all, we publish source code which any virus author can learn by. We encourage people to learn new programming techniques. We tell the truth about how viruses work, and we're not afraid to give people code which shows how viruses do what they do, so that anyone who wishes to write a virus has the knowledge to do so.

But does this make us bad? Let's look at it again, in a slightly different perspective:

We publish source code which any anti-virus author can learn by. We encourage people to learn new programming techniques. We tell the truth about how viruses work, and we're not afraid to give people code which shows how viruses do what they do, so that anyone who wishes to write anti-virus software has the knowledge to do so.

Hmmm... now do we seem so bad? With the addition of a few "anti"s in that last paragraph, we turned 40-Hex around - from a bad underground magazine to a beneficial wealth of information. Interesting, eh?

This seems to be where the Vesselin Bontchev's of the world have a serious problem seeing the forest, because of the trees. Bontchev has often proclaimed, quite loudly, and in no uncertain terms, that virus code should never, never, never, under any circumstances, be distributed to anyone! Anyone, that is, except an anti-virus researcher like himself. Double standard? Yes.

A typical scenario on the newsgroup reads like this:

Joe Unknown: Hi, I'm interested in writing an anti-virus package, and need to obtain viruses which I can experiment and work with. Where can I find them?

Joe Established-AV-Person: You can't. I don't know you, and no one else does either. Therefore, you cannot be trusted, and you may not recieve virus code. You should be ashamed for asking! You probably just want to learn to write viruses so you can wreak havoc on all computers everywhere! Hmmmph!

Yes, folks, it is this bad. The anti-virus guys talk of "ethical standards" which say that they just can't give out virus code, except to other established AV people. Ethical standards? Double standards!!! What would happen, if they did give their viruses to "unknown" people who wanted them? Would massive virus infections result? Maybe. Would new anti-virus software packages be created? Probably. But will the AV guys give anyone a chance? Hardly.

It's this attitude which upsets a lot of people. And one of them was upset enough to finally ask WHY 40-Hex was so censored on the net. Of course, he got the "ethical standard" reply. But the true fact is - people want this (and any other) fine VX magazine! The Nuke Infojournals, ARCV newsletters, the Crypt newsletters... I've had people ask me time and time again where they can find them on the Internet. And I've told them, time and time again, "You can't. Sorry."

Most of you who read this mag are involved in either of 3 groups: The Virus underground, System Security, or Anti-Virus research. Where did you obtain your copy of 40-Hex? A BBS? A friend? A disk you found lying in the computer room? Probably a BBS. Certainly not Internet. The poor folks on Internet are missing out on a LOT of good information, all because a handful of self-appointed experts decided that censorship was better than knowledge. Of course, if I were to post this fact in comp.virus, my message would never get out. Why? Because the group is moderated by an individual who ranks right up there with the rest of the Censors. Any message even vaguely requesting a source for viruses is killed before it gets out. And certainly, any post containing source code, or a way to obtain viruses is nuked before it's ever seen by anyone. The comp.virus echo is one of the most heavily censored newsgroups on Usenet! Does this bother you? It certainly bothers me! information is power, folks! Stupidity is not!

Recently I had a long conversation with Alan Solomon, head of S & S International, publisher of Dr. Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit. It was a pleasant conversation, and Dr. Solly is a very nice person to talk to. Although we obviously don't see eye-to-eye on certain topics, we came to a general understanding - he does anti-virus work to help other people and to make a living. I run a virus board to pass on information and to fight censorship. I respect him for his ideals, and I believe he respects me for mine. Of course, he doesn't approve of what I do, but he respects my reasons for doing it. Was an interesting conversation, I'm glad we had it. Thanks, Alan - for everything.

Censorship of viruses, virus code, and virus mags is quite strong. Those in the underground often don't realize how censored this material really is, or how lucky they are to be able to obtain it with a phone call. It really bugs me to think that people out there want the information contained inside this very issue, but are unable to get it because of the closed minds of a handful of "experts".

Wake up people! This is the 90's! This is the information age! Censorship doesn't help! It harms! Keeping people ignorant doesn't help them, it hurts them! Knowledge is power! Free information is what cyberspace is based on! Anything else is simply wrong.

--Dec
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