PC virus course is 'likely to backfire'

June 6, 2003

A Canadian university is refusing to drop a computer virus writing course despite complaints by anti-virus software companies that it constitutes a threat to computer security.

The course, Computer Viruses and Malware, is being developed by a computer science professor at the University of Calgary. It will involve students developing malicious software such as viruses, worms and Trojan horses.

But a network of anti-virus companies says it is not necessary to write new viruses to understand how they can be prevented.

"Everybody in the anti-virus community thinks this is an appalling idea," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos Anti-Virus.

With 80,000 viruses in existence, the computer world did not need the possibility of more breaking out from universities, he added.

But Roman Cooney, Calgary's vice-president for external relations, said that the course would guide computer security students on how to "dig deeper". The course is promoted as a way for students to place themselves in the minds of the criminals.

Mr Cluley said that none of his employees who had stopped malicious codes had ever needed to write new viruses but had simply tried to understand systems that make themselves vulnerable to attacks, he said.

Ken Barker, head of computer science, said precautions would be taken to prevent outbreaks. Facilities would be locked and manned, labs where the viruses are written would not be wired to the internet, students would be vetted and hard drives would be cleaned of information regularly, he said.

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