You’d be right in thinking it’s hard to program a computer virus that can spread across the world in a flash – we’re talking days of constant desk-jockey nerd-work. So why do they bother? Well, it generally comes down to 3 reasons: Money, showing off their skill, or to simply being a jerk. While showing off or being a jerk is pretty self-explanatory, the money side is fascinating.
Here’s how people are making money with computer viruses:
Bank account theft: Virus creators are more than happy to help themselves to your bank details, sneaking in to grab your login details or credit card info. They can either transfer your funds away or use your credit card details to go on a shopping spree. Sometimes they’ll leave the fun to another person though, and simply sell your details to the highest bidder.
Ransomware: Rather than a financial snatch and grab, sometimes a virus will encrypt your files and demand money for the unlock code. Without a true backup plan in place beforehand, you’re at their mercy. You’ll be given very helpful information on how to pay, plus a firm deadline before your files are destroyed permanently.
Ad swappers: A cheeky technique, this is when they create a virus that either puts annoying ads on websites you visit, or places affiliate codes on pages so that when you buy something legitimately – eg, from Amazon – they get a percentage as a ‘referral fee’. Their kickback doesn’t make your purchase cost more and you may not even know you’re supporting their activities.
Bitcoin mining: You might have heard of digital currencies being used for payment, but did you know you can also earn them with your computer processing power? Unfortunately, ‘renting’ out your computer’s processing power means paying more in running costs than you’d make – unless you were very clever and sneaky, and used a virus to rent out other people’s computers.
Botnets: Certain infected computers can be remotely controlled to do whatever the virus creator wants. In this case, they’ll usually set the infected bot computers to overwhelm a target web server, like an e-commerce store. Sometimes it’s done as revenge, but more often it’s blackmail. The ‘Botmaster’ says “pay me thousands of dollars or I’ll crash your site during the biggest shopping day of the year.”
Account stealing: Subscription accounts like Netflix and Hulu are often hijacked, leaving you to pay the bill for someone else’s entertainment. But sometimes, virus creators go one step further with online gaming accounts. All those digital items that you fought so hard for (special clothing, weapons etc.) can carry real world value and be stolen from your account and sold on a black market. Yes, that’s cheating!