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Talk of female virus writers makes readers angry

Readers respond to a controversial Editor's Note on the state of female virus writers.

Recently, I wrote a response to an Editor's Note by Edward Hurley,'s News Writer. In it, he clearly referred to virus writers as exclusively male. In my response, I remarked how I found his reference strange, mostly because I had always believed that women were just as likely to be virus writers as men were. It turns out that my remarks struck a chord.

Many of you wrote in with your thoughts. Some of you were shocked while others tried to offer explanations for the discrepancy. Also, many of you thought my comments would encourage women to take up arms and start writing viruses. I sincerely hope women will not interpret my Editor's Note this way. I do not encourage women in any way to become involved with this illegal activity.

I've reposted my Editor's Note along with user feedback on the topic of female virus writers below. Please feel free to add your own comments on this topic in our discussion forum or e-mail me at

MISSING: Female virus writers

It's not often that I run across an article where I am both stunned and surprised to see that women are obviously excluded. But I was when I read the following in last week's Editor's Note: "The law needs to send a message to the sea of young men who may be tempted to throw a worm together and see what it does. They need to know that writing worms and releasing them into the wild is not harmless fun but a criminal act with ramifications."

Was that right? Did Edward Hurley,'s News Writer, actually mean "young men" instead of "young people?" Maybe some of you who read Ed's note found that sentence and his other references to male virus writers peculiar and perhaps erroneous. As soon as I read the whole piece, I immediately questioned it and the validity of his statements. Surely, Ed didn't mean to exclude women. But, as it turns out Ed meant exactly what he wrote, and he has the facts to back it up.

Ed based his comments on a vendor meeting with Finland-based F-Secure Corp. where in the course of talking about viruses and their origins, the manager of the antivirus lab Mikko Hypponen mentioned how men, not women, are the majority of virus writers. In fact, Hypponen said he knows of only one female virus writer, and she lives in Austria.

So, why aren't there more female virus writers? I certainly do not want to encourage women to take up the habit of writing malicious code, but I am curious as to why it is male-dominated. What do you think?

P.S. Check out this month's Information Security magazine for positive contributions that women are making to the field of security.

Readers respond

"Virus writing -- by either females or males -- should not become a gender issue. I am sure there are a number of female virus writers out there, but thus far none of their "work" has amounted to much. When an organization is under attack or threatened by malicious code, I really don't care if the author of the worm is male or female. Either way you look at it, he or she is breaking the law once they deploy their code. So, gender is not the issue. But these types of comments and reactions invoke potential virus writers to wake up and prove a point. So, whose comments are more of a threat here?"

"Why do you care? Why would you want to bring that to anyone's attention? Most statistics show that the male population deals more in criminal activities than the female population; so this is nothing new... I could care less if virus writers are male or female. Your statement just stirs the pot and distracts from the issue. As a female, I could care less."

"I think that females don't participate much in writing viruses, because intelligent women use their skills to build, not to destruct. Women are, for the most part, not hostile. Women don't normally find joy or ego by hurting others."

"I think that you are the sort of a woman that prehaps unintentionally, however, very vocally, promotes negativity against women. I hope that you will reconsider your actions and in the future be deliberate about sending out messages that encourage the positive opinions of women rather than dig for dirt even where it is hard to find. A true feminist should think about the long term effects she wants to have rather than the immediate gratification of a message that fills a mailer with uselessness."

"I am surprised you are surprised that there are not more women writing viruses. Women are not only smart but ethical. You will find women utilizing their talent and their brains to prevent malicious acts rather than instigate them."

"This may spawn new attacks saying that men are the only ones and then in the same breath citing a female in Austria. I think you are exactly correct in saying that he must be mistaken. It is criminal and can cripple a nation. We must remind administrators that they must be up-to-date on all security updates available to protect their enterprises. As difficult as this may seem sometimes we must all be aware and be ahead of the game. Female or male, it matters not, they are still all criminals. Let's just change the name from virus writer to virus writer criminal and not put gender into the pot."

"There are two reasons that females using this avenue -- virus writing -- are very few. First, the drive for recognition is less urgent. For young males, achieving a sense of self-worth and recognition from outside sources will rise to a level of obsession unless achieved earlier. Second, it appears to me that the females have a greater choice of routes to personal validation. Thus, they are able to 'get themselves together' earlier and with less extraordinary means."

"What a topic! Let's give women a reason to go and prove a point or not. I sincerely believe that we have plenty of virus engineers in the world. I have to admit it is a valid point, but not one that should really be expressed; it might be the trigger for the next worm. In any case, just wanted to send in my two cents, and let you know that I enjoyed your article."

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