Some politically incorrect words about the so-called "scene"
[by Spanska, written for Coderz.net e-zine]
- Ethnographic introduction
Virus writers and all people classified globally under the "Vx" label are an interesting population to observe. Especially if you can have a look from the inside, and, at the same time, if you're not involved enough, in order to be able to see the "scene" from an independant and exterior point of view. I think i qualify here. I'm around since a few years, met some coders in real life, wrote some viruses, but at the same time i was never member of any group, i'm old enough to be able, i hope, to think with some distance, and these last monthes i basically had better things to do than to write code.
- Don't ask "How much time you spend on IRC?", but ask "Show me your code!"
The main problem of the "scene" can be spelled in three letters: IRC. I'm impressed to see how people spend so much time chatting about everything except virus coding techniques. They think that to be a real virus writer, you need to be accepted in some virus channel, and then spend twelve hours a day there. High dosis of IRC induces a sort of twist in reality perception, because people behave there very differently from real life. How many people we saw, and we will see, very proud of their brand new op, kicking, banning, laughing about infected users, acting as some powerful agressive elite. Even if they never produced one single line of code. Even if they never did anything useful for the Vx community. Even if their only production is a twenty line macro-virus. Even if they have to go to school the day after, where they will not be "DarkLordz" or "KillerGod" anymore, but normal average teens who have to do their homework. If you think you're a mature person, and i guess most of us are, behave as a mature person even on IRC.
You may think i exagerate when i talk about this twist of reality. Unfortunately, i can cite lots of examples. Let's take one that everybody heard about. This coder, no need to tell his nickname, according to his own words, sent logs to some anti-virus people showing that another coder was actively spreading viruses, to "protect one or two channels from being deleted by Undernet". Basically, that means that the existence of IRC channels is more important that a real person's life. Because, unfortunately, nowadays, spreading viruses can lead directly to some years in jail, depending on the laws in your country. Which means a destroyed life. Just to "save a channel". You see the twist. I'm pretty sure now the guy in question recognizes the big error he made, and i hope he learnt from that, but anyway, it's too late.
This example was of course a bit unique in his importance. But it's typical of a state of mind very widespread in the Vx community. People think an op is the most important thing in life. They thing their rank level in the channel's bot is the only important thing, proportional to their eliteness. Twist again. Importantly, this changes the communication and the behaviour between people. Who is going to criticize the owners of their favourite channels? Or more generally, people with a higher level? This leads to hypocrisy, which is very widespread in the community.
I saw too much examples of guys and girls spending so much time on IRC that everything that happened there, even the most anecdotical fights, was taking a huge importance. Let me tell you: if you need a computer and to be connected to feel human emotions like pain, angryness, friendship or love, there is something wrong. Really.
IRC has another problem. It's dangerous. It seems that Vx people never learnt the lessons from the Melissa case. They don't care about encryption, they don't care about remailers, they don't care what they say on-line can be used to profile or trace themselves or, even more importantly, some of their friends. They keep megabytes of sensitive IRC logs and old mails. They just don't care until the worst happens. Virus writing and spreading is no more a funny game. It's a dangerous criminal activity, and you have to take this fact in account, especially if you spread your viruses, or have friends who do that. This is the main revolution in Vx Land these recent years. Now they are seriously after us. And nobody cares.
- Vxers as crickets
Let's talk about another interesting behaviour in the Vx scene: the flocking in groups. That's funny how people who repeat so often that they are independant, or think different, do all their possible to integrate or create some clan with similar people, and then be proudly tagged as a member of a larger entity known as a Vx group, with its own set of new rules and laws they have to conform to. Like sheeps. The analogy is not here just as a cheap provocation. It's a very old animal behaviour. Individuals are weak; if they flock, they are stronger against all possible ennemies. Or at least they feel stronger. Crickets are a good example. Whenever they form a very large group, their behaviour changes completely and they become much more agressive. They are no more afraid of predators. It's very funny to see the same kind of basical animal regression in Vx crowds.
Or maybe it's just to get some form of reconnaissance. People with no skill, or people afraid to learn (because we were all lamers at day zero, we should not forget that) know that they will never be accepted in the community for their own merits. So they need a sort of official tag to prove to others and maybe even more to themselves that they are part of Vx scene. This mark is provided by the membership in some group, which provide easily and quickly an official entrance ticket into the scene. No need to produce anything useful, now. You are already inside the community, even by a totally artificial way.
Here again, examples are numerous. Was it one year ago that a new mainly english-based group appeared, totally over-hyped, with every newcomer wanting to integrate? They did nothing, most of their members were just plain unknown, but you couldn't miss their presence on IRC. Everybody laughed at them, but nobody told them directly that they were totally ridiculous, for example with their "public relation department" (more on that later), and other really laughable things. Yet, again, IRC was the main "scene" participation. Where is the code? I think now this group returned to the dust it appeared from, but who really cares? I remember too these ridiculous but finally rewarded ass-licking efforts by a coder (who is a cool and very intelligent guy, but anyway) to integrate a high-profile group. Once he was at last able to glue this well-known tag to his nickname, he reached his goal, and just disappeared. He never coded anything else.
People sometimes tell me: "being member of a group is a good way to motivate". If you need to be motivated or gently forced to be a vxer, it should be a better idea to spend your time fishing, or doing something you don't need to be motivated for. Forget for a moment the question "how to be a vxer" (and basically, if you still don't know the answer, it's time to return to your stamp collection), but ask yourself the more important question: why do you want to be a Vxer? For the hype? Because it's cool? Because people will fear you? Because you want to satisfy your ego? Because your want to impress your girlfriend or your mom? Because you're looking for on-line friends? Or just because you are curious, you want to code and learn some new knowledge?
- I'm soooo afraid to talk with normal people!
Another strong critic and clear sign of immaturity that comes to mind. Most of the Vxer are not able to argument with people from the two other sides of the virus triangle: anti-virus people and infected users. There is a good place for that: alt.comp.virus on Usenet. A mainly anti-virus group nowadays, unfortunately, with some non-interesting parrots, but anyway, the only place where you can directly and publically discuss with members of the anti-virus industry. They have their share of big hypocrisy, ego, closed mind, of course, but i'm not talking about them right now. These guys, and some of them are very smart, have a lot of tough arguments to oppose to us. The easy way, used by most of Vx people, is not to participate in this group, and avoid any kind of discussion. Or just to pop up here once, insult everybody, and jump back to their hole. What does it mean? Easy: virus writers are not enough open-minded to quietly discuss with people opposing them, listen and contradict some opposite argumentation. Or maybe they are not smart and mature enough to engage in an adult discussion. It is kind of funny because Vx often ask for people to be open-minded about virus writing activities. Instead of bashing the largely beloved Nick Fitzgerald on IRC, where he is not, what about trying to argue against him publically in the newsgroup? Of course, it may be a bit tougher, due to his rhetorical skills.
Some vx people told me that they don't participate in this forum because it's a mainly AV group. Think a bit more about this argumentation. It's kind of recursive, a bit like an infinite loop, to use coding terms. It looks like an auto-realizing prophecy. In other words, it's plain stupid.
- Ego scene
I could talk more about the grossly over-inflated ego of most of us (me included), but my hour of reflexion is over. Anyway, just as an example, i always find funny the dramatic and emphatic farewells from people leaving the "scene", although they generally never produced anything noticeable, texts apparently always written with some emotion. If you want to leave, just disappear silently and return to where you came from, nobody will notice anyway, keep contacts if you want, and don't bother people with your ridiculous tears in the eyes and other "official" retirement. The day you decided to become a vxer, you didn't issue a public statement "People, listen to me, today i officially join the vx scene!". So, do the same when you leave. Every other way to stop is just a desesperate and childish call for attention, from people who didn't receive enough of it for their production during their career, an ultimate try to turn people eyes in their direction for one or two minutes. This impression is even worsened when the guy gives, as a reason, "there is too much shit in the scene these days", or something like that. That clearly means that they were not here to code and to learn. They probably needed to be accepted in whatever community to find some other people to talk with. What about the Barbie doll collector scene? Now i think about it, the utimate case of lameness is the guy who declares everywhere that he quits, and is actually still around. Not even able to follow his own words.
Another example, linked with the group problem. It seems that some people create a group for the only excitement to become a boss, to be able to recruit people, command them, and fire them if needed. People always need to find other people even more lame than them to enhance themselves, it's an eternal law of the human beings. Same mechanism of false and artificial feeling of power than in IRC. It's "my" group, "my" board, "my" zine, "my" channel, and there i am the king. More generally, a rigid hierarchy in a group is a clear signal of lameness. Newcomers, please notice how the best groups around have no hierarchy at all. Maybe one guy who centralizes the material for the zine, and that's all. Every attempt to mimick the real world (a company for example, with different departments) is condamned to be considered as extremely lame and poorly productive; and i don't even talk about the irony to see newcomers in the underground trying very quickly to imitate the mechanisms of the normal world. Didn't you come in the vx world in part because it looked different?
That's why everybody laugh when a group creates this peak of extreme ridiculousness, a "Public Relation" department. It's clearly a way to admit "we have nothing to say, but anyway, there is a guy in charge of that". It's a way to show to everybody your nombrilist and egocentric view of the scene, because you think every journalist around is going to be interested by your new group, you will be submerged by interview requests, users will ask you about your viruses, you will do the first page of the New York Times. In your dreams.
- Delicate conclusion
I sometimes think that the Vx scene is mainly composed by boring IRC teens, who don't really know what life (i mean the real life) is all about, who are not interested in learning, but in posing as some elite lordz of Darkness. It may be partially true, or partially wrong, depends on how you look at it. Anyway, i don't really care. A minority of people are interesting enough, as human beings, or coders, or both, and that's the only important thing, at least for me. I don't care about all the microscopic IRC wars, the anecdotic group fights, the childish agressivity. Maybe that's because i'm a bit old, but i think i've learned how to filter important things from the background noise. And not just in Vx world. Try to do the same, you will see, life is easier.
People involved in the virus community - i don't like the word "scene", this is not a theater, and there is nobody looking at us, another nombrilist deformation of reality, even in the terms used - always say that it's worsening with the years passing. More and more script kiddies and less and less die-hard asm coders who can spend six hours on a routine just to optimize it by saving two bytes. I don't think it's true. The problem being that people cannot separate their personal history from the global picture (that's not limited to the Vx world, of course). If you try to look at it with some distance, you will see that the vx community looks the same than five or ten years ago. Not in term of techniques used, of course, but in term of personalities. New people pops in, old people quit, as an eternal cycle. In these two extreme populations, and in the large group of active vxers which sits in the middle, the proportion between posers who are just driven by an ego trip (ph33r M3!), and the really interesting guys who want to discover new techniques or possibilities, even through a long learning process, yes, this proportion stays always the same through the years. You have stupid old schoolers and stupid newbies who think they are Elvis, and you have interesting old schoolers and interesting newbies who want to learn, always. If you're reading this and you think you are part of the "scene", just think about in which category you fit best. But be aware that the image you have of yourself may not be the image that your Vxers colleagues have of you. If you're not satisfied with it, think about what you can do to change it and maybe to gain some respect. I'm not talking just about just improving your technical skills. Some people try to be creative with their limited knowledge (me, for example), other run websites, publish useful databases, are active collectors, help newcomers by writing tutorials, code other things than pure viruses, whatever. You can, at last, ameliorate your behaviour when interacting with other people. In other words: try to be mature.
I will terminate here and return in my cave. Hope this helps.
Spanska - 20 September 2000
PS: Post a message in alt.comp.virus if you want to talk about that - I have no mail.