Virus-writers seemed, at least at first, to be in it for anything but money. The outcome was simply vandalism, as dull as someone smashing out the light fixtures in a bus shelter. Random bits of software or pieces of equipment would temporarily quit functioning. Random strangers were anonymously discommoded. Somewhere, I assumed, someone had a rather abstract giggle.
I wasn’t impressed, however arcane the know-how that was required. But I was embarrassed at how thoroughly I’d missed this in my fiction: the pettiness of most virus-writing, the banality of the result. I had never depicted, much less imagined, anyone doing anything as pointlessly ill-intentioned. (I began to try, on the margins of my work, to remedy that oversight, if only for the sake of naturalism.)
Last fall, when I learned of the Stuxnet attack on the computers running Iran’s nuclear program, I briefly thought that here, finally, was the real thing: a cyberweapon purpose-built by one state actor to strategically interfere with the business of another.
But as more details emerged, it began to look less like something new and more like a piece of hobbyist “street” technology, albeit one expensively optimized for a specific attack. The state actor — said to be Israel, perhaps working with the United States, though no one is sure — had simply built on the unpaid labor of generations of hobbyist vandals.