Crime Fighting Worms

Author Lawrence Lessig discusses prospect of worms “that do good” in his 2006 book, ‘Cyberspace 2.0’.

Lessig describes computer worms as code that is spat out into the network and finds its way into the systems of vulnerable computers. Unlike a virus’ which attach themselves to other programs a worm is just extra code that performs the desired function of the code writer. Worms can be completely harmless, designed to cause damage by corrupting files or as Lessig describes they can potentially be used for the greater good.

An example provided by Lessig explains how the government could potentially create a worm code that is programed to enters citizen’s computers and search for illegal material. The worm causes no harm to the computer and is only able to detect unsavoury material to report back to the government, leaving no trace of its existence.

Initially this idea seems like an unwarranted invasion of privacy but as Lessig describes, “The code can’t read private letters; it doesn’t break down doors; it doesn’t interfere with ordinary life. And the innocent has nothing to fear.”

Imagine now that the worms are being created by citizens to search for corruption or illegal conduct by government officials. A citizen could hypothetically write a worm code that sits in ex-preliminary speaker, Bronwyn Bishop’s computer. The could may be programed to report back to its writer whenever Ms. Bishop searches for helicopter rides to Geelong or if her monthly travel expenses bill reaches the $10,000 mark.

As a citizen, the idea of the Government accessing my computer to search for illegal content is unnerving, however, when considering the use of worms to detect illegitimate use of funds by government officials then suddenly “worms that sniff” don’t seem like such a bad idea.