Not a girl, not yet a hacker

A 17-year-old girl has written what may be the first virus in C# (pronounced “”C-sharp””), which would mess with systems running on Microsoft’s forthcoming .Net platform.

Chalk up another victory for womankind.

In what can only be considered a dubious achievement, the author of

the “”Sharpei”” worm told a U.K. security firm that she wanted to make a social point: that women can also create problems for complex computer networks. This hacker, who calls herself Gigabyte, has not unleashed the worm on the outside world, as far as anyone knows. Instead, she reportedly sent an e-mail to the security firm to explain that it was a strike against Microsoft (everyone’s favourite punching bag) and sexism in the male-dominated anti-virus industry.

It is always difficult to try and get inside the mind of a hacker, but in this case perhaps male hackers are from Mars and women hackers are from Venus. Is becoming a source of Internet terror really an object of female desire? We are, of course, talking about a supposed teenager, a breed known for incomprehensible forms of rebellion. Maybe Gigabyte is just a taste of what’s to come. Maybe launching denial of service attacks and crippling corporate Web sites will become as established a rite of passage for young women as reading Bridget Jones’ Diary and buying that first pair of Manolo Blahniks. Unless, of course, all girls are idiots, a theory I abandoned in about the third grade.

Gigabyte’s intellectual challenge, as she described it, could have been better directed at the overall shortage of women in IT. That’s a theme well worth exploring. Today, for example, ITBusiness.ca’s Neil Sutton reports on a new program by the Ontario government to encourage more girls to join the field, while the March 15 issue of Computing Canada will tackle this problem in greater detail.

I would argue, however, that the anti-virus culture has many feminine traits, if not many notable women doing the damage. Many of the best-known viruses — Melissa and Anna Kournikova — were named after women, for example. (Code Red had more of an Arnold Schwarzenegger/action movie feel to it, while Nimda and SirCam sounded like stuff you’d forgotten to study in your 12th-grade Algebra textbook). They also say girls mature faster than boys, which may explain why Gigabyte decided to give Sharpei up to the industry rather than sending it out. We could only have wished for such good sense from Montreal’s Mafiaboy before he launched DOS attacks in 1998.

It is the “”I Love You”” virus, though, that gets to the heart of the matter. The best viruses are really seductions — they offer simple text messages or attachments that tempt users to ignore their office security policies and risk bringing down their IT infrastructure. In this respect they are like the mermaids of ancient lore, who lured wayward seamen with their siren songs so that their boats would crash against the rocks.

If Gigabyte is as talented a programmer as she sounds, it’s too bad she doesn’t try to be a better example to other young women by preparing for a real technology job in a corporate enterprise. On the other hand, if there was a glass ceiling, she has certainly broken through it. You go, girl!

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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