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"Virus writers probed for terror ties," says Reuters firmly, the ensuing story making it clear - should this have been necessary - that we are here talking about virus-toting terrorist groups, rather than a predilection among virus authors for unfortunate neckwear. But on the other hand, that's something the UK's National High-Tech Crime Unit could equally well throw our money away on, if that's what it's doing.

If, because pace Reuters there doesn't seem to be a great deal of evidence that the NHTCU really thinks al-Qaeda worms are an imminent threat to our civilisation, or indeed that criminals, organised or disorganised, have yet turned to virus writers in order to further their devilish aims. Au contraire, as Reuters itself tells us: "Of the dozens of viruses and worms that emerge on the Internet each week, none has been traced back to organised crime or subversives aiming to disrupt a country's infrastructure."

But "'It's a tactic that could be utilised. We've seen legitimate programmes used in a way which allows people to have remote access to compromised systems. And similarly, viruses, Trojans and worms can be used by organised crime to launch attacks,' said Detective Chief Superintendent Len Hynds, head of the NHTCU."

Which is surely no more than the truth; there may may be no evidence that it's happening seriously yet, but it's a possibility. If virus techniques can be used to break into computers, then they may have applicability to criminals wishing to do so in order to steal stuff, and it's therefore something we'd expect the NHTCU to be keeping a watching brief on. Hynds has previously suggested that criminals have hacked into systems " in order to secrete their illicit material on the servers of unsuspecting businesses", but although he mentioned drug smugglers and gun runners, the evidence seems overwhelmingly to consist of child pornographers hijacking systems, which is something we all know about already.

The current terror story, such as it is, is that the NHTCU is working with antivirus companies "to identify patterns in the source code of the most damaging Internet worms and virus programmes to determine whether they are the work of organised subversive groups or crime syndicates."

So long as the Unit is not seriously looking for positives, but merely to confirm that no such patterns exist, this again would seem a reasonable thing to spend a small amount of money on.

Deadly attacks on the Internet, as we're all aware, are almost entirely the work of isolated dysfunctionals, aided in no small part by woefully secured and supervised computer systems. High tech computer crime, as we're sure the NHTCU is well aware, is largely the work of insiders. The two do not at the moment meet, and frankly it's difficult to conceive of Blofeld believing that the bludgeons that are unleashed by the dysfunctionals could be adapted to have anything like the effectiveness of a well-placed insider. As for the terrorist-virus connection, that is almost wholly the work of desperate self-publicising self-styled computer crime 'experts.'

Doesn't make such a good headline, of course. ®

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