Sunday's New York Times Magazine had a cover story by Clive Thompson on the symbiotic relationship between virus writers and script kiddies in the underground programming community.
The piece suffered from the normal journalistic conceit of overexaggerating the newness of its subject. Virus-authoring toolkits are at least as old as the Dark Avenger Mutation Engine, which was being hyped to the gills 12 years ago, but you wouldn't know that from reading the story -- Thompson makes it sound like the 15-year-old virus programmer Mario (a.k.a. Second Part to Hell) was the first person to ever code one:
The generator spits out the virus onto Mario's hard drive, a tiny 3k file. Mario's generator also displays a stern notice warning that spreading your creation is illegal. The generator, he says, is just for educational purposes, a way to help curious programmers learn how Trojans work. ... I've never contemplated writing a virus before. Even if I had, I wouldn't have known how to do it. But thanks to a teenager in Austria, it took me less than a minute to master the art.
The best parts of the article came from Thompson's visits to Europe to meet the self-satisfied bunch of young hackers writing these viruses. Many publish their work without executing it, believing that this is protected speech even if someone else commits a criminal act by executing the code.
Some of them are a lot more open than you'd expect them to be, publishing Web sites and stopping by Thompson's weblog to chat. Thompson couldn't find any American virus writers to meet and interview -- as he explains, "there have been very few active in the United States since 9/11, because of fears of prosecution."