Virus writers create the digital pests that cripple computer systems and cause millions of dollars in damage. While much has been written about viruses, little has been known about the writers themselves until recently. Sarah Gordon, a computer security expert, has done extensive research into the psychology of virus writers, and what she has found may surprise you. Because the skills required for virus writing are not nearly as demanding as those required for hacking, the perpetrators are often very young―some only 10 or 11 years old. That's why virus writers find themselves on a lower rung of the underground technical hierarchy. As these sinister whiz kids get older, they usually move beyond virus writing, working their way through the ranks to take up other technical pursuits. Gordon also discovered that for some people, entry into the world of virus writing is unintentional. By playing around with self-replicating programming codes perhaps in the process of investigating viruses and their effects on computer systems, well-meaning programmers can unleash new viruses. Nevertheless most virus writers carefully plan the chaos they create, whether in pursuit of notoriety or to make a political or personal statement. Writers bent on destruction frequently make use of the latest technology, often building on existing viruses. That's why we can predict that future outbreaks will be increasingly complex und devastating. How should society respond? According to Gordon, this depends on the age of the offender. In her studies, she found that adult virus writers are most effectively deterred by fear of punishment. “For adults,” says Gerdon, “it's not the law that are important, but their perception of the likelihood of being prosecuted under those laws.” Minors, on the other hand, arc unlikely to be intimidated by the threat of legal intervention. Education is a more effective counter measure, and Gordon argues that society has a moral obligation to teach children how to behave on the computer and on the Internet.