VX Groups a dying breed, but they wont be missed

A key part of our Information Security history has been the VX Group, responsible for developing and spreading viruses before the Internet was commonplace.

Microsoft's Malware Protection Center has picked up on some positive news that comes at a time when online threats are apparently increasing without limit. According to the MMPC's blog, there have been two VX (Virus writing and sharing) groups to have shut down in a very short period of time, seemingly without any external pressure. According to the post, there is really only one active group remaining, something which would have seemed far fetched not even a decade ago.

In the past, before the Internet really became commonplace, there were various groups of like-minded hackers who gathered together online (and in some cases in person) to share their knowledge about the detailed ins and outs of the systems, networks and technologies that were rapidly emerging. Some of these groups decided to focus on the malicious aspect of their knowledge, and thus were formed the first VX groups. As different groups came into contact with each other and knowledge and skills were shared and guarded, the VX scene emerged. Groups published and distributed 'zines (electronic magazines which were nothing more than elaborate text files) with details of their recent activities, samples of their work, and new discoveries that were considered essential to distribute and demonstrate that particular VX group or hacker's superiority. It was like a gossip network meets the Christmas letter, except the only members were very technical and very secretive about their real identities.

In more recent years, as Information Security companies have gained more widespread acceptance and traction amongst users, computers have become less of a mystery to many, and legal pressures increased on virus writers, many of the early VX groups faded away. There were complaints as early as 2002 that the VX scene and groups were disappearing rapidly.

The newly emerging malware author is more likely to be an independent operator, rather than existing within a formal group, due to the ready access to information online that previously would have only been available from within a group. With access to botnets for hire and other simple and wide-reaching methods for malware distribution, the hacker doesn't need a VX group to give them the required boost for distribution of their new creation. There are still active groups engaged in malware creation, distribution, defacement, and general hacking, but the traditional VX group is almost ready to join the ranks of other outdated technologies and concepts.

The passing of the VX group as a credible threat is not going to see too many tears shed by computer users or Information Security researchers, but it does represent a significant aspect of the history of Information Security, and computing in general.

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