Ethics of Internet Communication and Computer Viruses

Through Internet, people get a lot of information. For example, when we come to search for master program in the U.S., the first thing we can do tends to be using Internet to go to the websites of the master programs we are interested in. When you go to your nearest library, the librarian in the reference desk is likely to help you find your book with the computer right in front of them.

If the information provider is willing to share their information, we are totally able to access and get the information for free. According to Jurgen Habermas, the public sphere including Internet is "a discursive arena that is home to citizen debate, deliberation, agreement and action." [1] In this public sphere, "individuals are able to freely share their views with one another in a process which closely resembles the true participatory democracy advocated for electronic networks." [1]

Although the idea of public sphere sounds great and useful, Sha Sha Chu, Brendan Dixon, Peter Lai, Darren Lewis and Camila Valdes in their project at Stanford University find the different aspect of Internet communication. "By its very nature, the cyber environment is border-less, affords easy anonymity and methods of concealment to bad actors, and provides new tools to engage in criminal activity." [2]

What the virus creators do is to design, comply and release "encrypting viruses, multipartite viruses, stealth viruses and viruses employing encryption techniques so bizarre that it warrants immediate concern" according to Paul W. Ferguson. Jr. [3] Therefore, the Internet is the great place for these creators to challenge themselves and make people all around the world concern about their data.

The author of the famous virus Anna Kournikova virus in 2001 was "a twenty-year-old Dutch man who goes by the alias 'OnTheFly.'" [4] He was one of the script kiddies, defined as "crackers who use scripts and programs written by others to perform their intrusions." [4] OnTheFly "claims in his online admission that he wrote the virus to demonstrate that people had not learned their lessons from the LoveBug virus" [4] in 2000. He also "never wanted to harm the people who opened the attachment. But after all; it's their own fault they got infected." [4]

Meiring de Villiers, the author of the article, "Virus Ex Machina Res Ipsa Loquitur" points out the aspect of protecting and stopping the virus attacks. "The global presence explosive growth and open access of the Internet and modern communication technology have dramatically increased the vulnerability of a provider or distributor of software to liability for harm caused by errors, logical flaws and other factors that may cause a computer system error." [5] Villiers also states that "A victim of a virus attack may bring legal action under a negligence theory against the provider of the infected software, as well as against entities involved in its distribution, such as web site operators" [5] The author gives the examples such as a web site controller, the system operation in a workplace, and bulletin boards supervisor. If the virus creators insist on their right to use the public sphere freely and to express themselves for their virus data and distribution, would these controllers, operators and supervisors be blamed on because they did not work enough to protect the entry of the virus data or to stop the distribution of the virus data?

Ferguson says "No." He states, "For whatever reason, posting of code that has the ability to replicate (or even destroy) on an unsuspecting user's system is, in my opinion, inherently wrong. And the assistance in propagating it is equally guilty." [3]

Despite his personal opinion, he admits, "there are currently no laws that specifically target computer virus distribution."[3] Therefore, he suggests in the end of his article that "a set of moral and ethical standards need to be created that dictate what is unacceptable behavior in the computer community." [3]

Although what he insists in his article sounds right, we must not forget that his suggestion would deny one of the benefits of the Internet communication: free and open access to the information, which is likely to limit the democratic ideals Habermas suggests in public sphere.

It is really difficult to "draw the line between the free exchange of ideals and information and disallowing damaging code to be freely exchanged to all requesters." [3]

Sources

  1. http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/bassr/gaynor/publics.htm
  2. http://www-cse.stanford.edu/classes/cs201/projects-00-01/viruses/legal.html
  3. http://vx.netlux.org/lib/static/vdat/epethics.htm
  4. http://www-cse.stanford.edu/classes/cs201/projects-00-01/viruses/social-implications.html
  5. http://stlr.stanford.edu/STLR/Articles/03_STLR_1/contents_f.htm

    Home