|Viruses are one of the truly great threats to the wired economy, but to Lonell Navisem, they represent something else entirely: the largest untapped market in Internet history. Navisem, 24, is the founder and CEO of ViruSystems, an aggressive and highly controversial startup that intends to manufacture and sell computer viruses. We sat down with Navisem in his office in the Malaysian capital to discuss ViruSystem's groundbreaking, and ethically suspect, business model.
Q: Just so we have this straight, you intend to manufacture and sell viruses, and also to act as an intermediary between IVMs (independent virus makers) and the public, taking a percentage of each sale. In other words, you're going to manufacture and propagate chaos.
A: We will not propagate chaos. On the contrary, by placing viruses in the commercial domain, we effectively wrestle power away from nihilistic hands and place it firmly within the more rigid, responsible capitalist system, where there is oversight and, we believe, immense revenue potential.
Q: You're nuts.
A: I'm sorry?
Q: So, how did you come up with this idea?
A: It was the Love Bug that opened my eyes. That thing had 30-plus mutations. It went out to something like 50 million consumers. And in the end, you know what it was?
Q: A multi-billion-dollar catastrophe.
A: Yes, that, but think big picture That, my friend, was the biggest bulk email in history, and it did not carry advertising. Talk about acatastrophe.
Q: That's sick.
A: Absolutely. You say to yourself, 'How could such a huge mass marketing opportunity go unmonetized?' Turns the stomach. So we are going to change that. Not only will we make and sell viruses, but we will sell advertising space in the message that goes with each virus unit.
Q: Ad space? Who would buy an ad in a virus?
A: How about the anti-virus makers such as Symantec and McAfee? There is real synergy. In a single email, you get a virus and an offer to buy the vaccine. It is so obvious, I don't know why nobody has thought of it before."
Q: Maybe because it's illegal.
A: But it is not, here, anyway. It is illegal to distribute viruses, but we are only going to manufacture and sell them, and sell ad space. What customers do with the product is their business.
Q: But what they're going to do is infect other computers.
A: Not necessarily. It could be, say, virus aficionados trying to complete their collections. They have the '98 Melissa and the '97 Bubble Boy, but they need the '00 Love Bug. Or even more likely, they could buy a virus for self defense.
Q: Self defense.
A: Yes. You know, 'Don't mess with me. I'm packing bad code.' It helps level the pitch. We give law-abiding Netizens access to the same weaponry criminals have.
Q: Hence your marketing slogan.
A: Yes. 'When computer viruses are outlawed, only outlaws will have computer viruses.'
Q: The gun lobby would be proud.
A: The parallels are undeniable. Like gun makers, we produce and sell weaponry. But remember, we also have an additional revenue stream: we sell advertising space on the bullets.
Q: OK, let me ask you this: viruses are free, so assuming the 'virus collector market' is not fiscally material, why would nihilistic programmers actually spend money on what they now make or get for nothing?
A: Virus creators are cost-conscious, that is true. But they are also conscious of technology and outcome. If they can build or download a free virus that wipes out a few jpeg files, or buy an outrageous virus that erases a hard drive, we think they will choose the latter.
Q: But you don't advocate using viruses for that purpose.
A: No, of course not. But remember, viruses don't kill computers. End-users kill computers.
Q: Catchy, but self-serving.
A: On the contrary, you ask anyone who works in tech support, they'll swear by that statement