I’m currently in the midst of what will hopefully turn out to be a not-too-protracted bout with an especially nasty piece of malware, in this case an ugly pop-up window-filled thing that masquerades as an anti-virus program (ha!) and tries to get you to install what is sure to be some even nastier junk if you want to do away with the current messiness. It’s my fault, I suppose: a friend’s Facebook account sent me a link (ignore it, he later messaged me, but several hours too late), but then I ignored the warnings of my browser and my operating system alike, clicking through to the spyware-infected page and allowing the installation program to run even when everyone knows you’ve got to be more careful than that. And so here I am, running a virus scan in the background and googling away for tips on clearing this thing up.

I’ve dealt with this sort of attack before, and so this time I knew pretty well where to turn – though check back in tomorrow to see whether that initial confidence is warranted. But I simply can’t imagine the likely response of someone (my mother, say, or even my wife) with significantly less knowledge of and – more importantly – comfort around computers, when the system goes haywire with warnings of impending doom. Call tech support? Check in with a friend, child, or spouse? Or maybe you just click the “OK” button on one of those windows that pops up and tells you that your machine has been infected and you had better let them fix it … that’s how these computer things work, right?

But the bigger question that’s been bothering me is that of who in the world would create a thing like this. Despite the program’s occasional clumsiness – the icons are ugly, words are sometimes misspelled, and what kind of anti-virus program keeps opening up new Internet Explorer windows that it won’t let you close? – it’s obviously a very intricately-coded piece of software, and it’s not at all clear what is supposed to be the payoff for the hundreds or even thousands of hours that likely went into designing it. Does the program I’m supposed to go ahead and download cost some money? Are my passwords and credit card numbers being stolen even as I type? Are the hackers in cahoots with the purveyors of the real anti-virus programs? Or is it all being done simply for the thrills? And if the last of those, then … yeesh.

Perhaps it’s only someone in my present state who finds this question interesting, but does anyone know of anything good that has been written – something along the lines of this, perhaps – on the topic of who these people are and what they think they’re doing? And no, Alan, I don’t want a lecture on how Macs are better on this score than PCs – just some kind of window into who in the world decided that writing a program that would force me to take time away from blogging my dissertation to work instead on cleaning up my hard drive would be more worthwhile than … well, than pretty much anything, really.