Viruses: How much profit is to be made?

By Dan Pike
April 12, 2003
Viruses, how many times have we all had them? They’re creative and enticing and the majority effective. With messages such as, “the true snow white story”, they mimic the typical content of an ordinary chain email. Perhaps the greater predator than the virus is the infamous chain emails which, if it weren’t for their existence there would be much less viruses.

The most interesting issue regarding viruses is the profit to be made from their existence. This is not usually in the form of the developer receiving profit but rather the profit received along the way to try and prevent the spread of the virus. Each step of the way, profit is made from the spread of the virus.

First, the virus is spread by email; the ISP receiving the email will make a profit by charging the user data download fees. Admittedly, this will be a dismal amount on a single email. Approximately 30k of data doesn’t matter that much to most people. Consider the likes of the “I Love You” virus, however, which spread across the world. If it was downloaded (modestly) 1 million times, this calculates to 30 million kilobytes, which converts to 28.6 gigabytes of data. If the ISP’s are charging 19cents per megabyte downloaded (Telstra’s wholesale fee); the charges will be $55 664. Admittedly a small charge, but also a wholesale charge, the ISP’s will add their profit onto this. Also, there are so many viruses which spread in this form and in such large numbers, there is much profit to be made here.

So, do the ISP’s really want to prevent this from occurring when there is so much money to be made? After all, ISP’s could quite easily install virus protection software on their email systems. Corporations do this to prevent viruses from spreading across their network and ISPs could do so just as easily.

The next place for the virus is on the user’s computer. Users purchase virus protection software for their PC’s at quite high prices and the manufacturer lovingly encourages paranoia about viruses which can at most “make swirly patterns on your screen”. How do you update your virus definition software? By downloading them from the Internet of course. More money is again to be made for the ISP’s from every single person who downloads a one-megabyte update. Keeping in mind, you don’t pay to upload data, just to download it. If a virus company has 1 million people (possibly modest) download their weekly virus definitions; this equates to $190 000 for the ISP’s across the world.

The next point of benefit is to those seeking employment. Companies are continually employing more employees to manage their virus definition software and their infrastructure, which blocks this software.

Consider how demanding on hardware scanning every email which enters and organisation is. More purchasing will occur as corporations spend up big to ensure that their email servers will not fall over trying to scan emails for viruses.

So, are viruses unstoppable? Or is there perhaps a much more controversial explanation for the reason why Systems Administrators dread getting out of bed the morning after hearing of a virus outbreak on the nightly news. Give us your opinion in our online discussion.