Virus-Writing Course Stirs Controversy

University of Calgary comes under attack for offering a course that includes instruction on coding viruses.

Two prominent groups of anti-virus professionals on Monday condemned the recent decision by the University of Calgary to offer a course that includes instruction on coding viruses. The groups said that teaching such skills "is completely unnecessary" and undermines the work being done to counteract viruses.

"It is simply not necessary to write new viruses to understand how they work and how they can be prevented. There are also enough viruses on the Internet already that can be dissected and analyzed without creating new threats," said a joint statement released by the Anti-Virus Information Exchange Network and the Anti-Virus Information and Early Warning System. "There is no reason to actually write malware to become an expert in the field or to learn how to protect against it. Writing safe programs that demonstrate an infection vector is adequate without building in the reproductive sequences."

The two groups, which are closely aligned, represent mainly AV professionals who manage large numbers of users. But AVIEWS, which acts as a fast-alert service for new virus information, also includes some employees of AV vendors.

The groups statement comes in response to news that a professor at the University of Calgary in the fall will teach a class that will show students how to code viruses and Trojans. The university is billing the class as the first of its kind in Canada, and it may well be the first such course anywhere.

The class, titled "Computer Viruses and Malware," will "focus on developing malicious software such as computer viruses, worms and Trojan horses," according to a press release announcing the availability of the course. Students will also learn how to deconstruct and analyze malicious programs and delve into the ethics and legalities surrounding viruses.

However, not everyone is ready to dismiss the class out of hand.

"To disagree with the university, means that you are assuming that the people taking the course are inherently malicious with lots of spare time. I believe that most people taking formal classes are not going to use their knowledge for evil," said Doug Dagworthy, assistant manager of research and development at Alumni Computing Group Inc., based in Buffalo, N.Y. "Real virus writers already have all the access to virus creating tools they need. I like the idea of arming the good guys. Id even bet that a number of the graduates end up with careers with an anti-virus company. In the least they probably will be able to help any company they work for, implement anti-virus, anti-spy ware policies."

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