Interview with a Spammer

Where do computer viruses come from? Here is an example

A lot of people wonder, who sends virus emails. Is there any pleasure to send such emails? Why do people do it? We talked to a person, who sends virus-infected emails, and asked him about it.

Why do you want to conceal your name? What are you afraid of?

Is there any point of saying it? Don’t you know the way people treat spammers and those, who spread viruses on the Internet? If I say my name, people will hate it, and I do not want that, for I work in a respectable company, I have a family. If you want a name, let’s say I am Andrey, for example. I started emailing viruses, because I was forced to do it.

What does it mean? Who made you do that?

People did, who else? But I have to tell you the story, which happened before that, otherwise no one will understand anything. It all started several years ago, in the middle of the 1990s. I just graduated from the university and started working in an institute. Me and some other guys decided to make a game there.

A computer game? What do viruses have to do about it?

Yes, a computer game. Let’s wait with viruses. At first there was a game. We worked on it when we had free time, and I have to say that we spared a lot of time on that. We made up the plot of the game ourselves, which was the hardest thing to do, and then we sat down and started working on the software. You probably remember that there were practically no Russian computer games back in the 1990s. There are tons of them now, Russian games compete with foreign ones, we have special companies that make them, and so on. We had none of that in the past. We were young and ambitious. The guys that I worked with were very talented, they were professionals. A lot of them live in foreign countries at present, someone developed businesses here in Russia. But this is another story. So we just thought to earn some money with our minds, and we started working on that game.

Can you tell us, what kind of game it was exactly? You mentioned that it was difficult to develop its plot?

Like I said, we were young, so we agreed that our game should have a bright Russian profile. We wanted it to have the Russian spirit. That is why we decided to use Russian folklore fairytales for the plot.

Don’t you think that it was a rather trivial decision to make?

Why does it seem trivial to you? What do you think we were supposed to make our game about? About perestroika? Do you know any game that is based on Russian fairytales? No, you don’t. There is no such game. Just look at what our children play – some Harry Potter. Our children do not know our fairytales. I think that we made the right choice.

In other words, you wanted to make a game for kids, didn’t you?

Let’s say that we wanted to make it for kids and teenagers, for schoolchildren. Computer games are basically played by boys, so we decided that the main character of our game should be of the opposite sex. We just thought that it would be more interesting, for there are not many games with female characters. As it is known, the major female character of Russian fairytales is a girl known as sister Alyonushka. So we had Russian fairytales a source of our creation and we had the main character of the game. We needed to make up her adventures that would be based on Russian tales too.

Andrey, you have been talking about this game for long already, although we originally intended to talk about viruses.

Yes, I remember that. I am about to switch to that issue. I would just like to say that we made an excellent game. There were mazes there, riddles and keys and everything. It was not easy to think of a name for the new game. We decided to name it “Alyonushka in the Underground Town.” It was the first part of the game, then we wanted to make a sequel to it – “Alyonushka in the Underwater Kingdom,” “Alyonushka in the Heaven World.” It was originally supposed to be a series of games, like Harry Potter.

So, what happened next? You stopped making games and started sending viruses?

No, it was not like that. Let’s start with saying that the 1990s were over in Russian with the financial crisis in 1998. We had troubles like everyone else. There was practically no work to do at the institute, some of our guys lost all of their savings. It was horrible. Yet, we did not quit working with or game. We finished it at the end of 1998. The funniest thing happened right after that. We thought that the game would be in great demand, we thought that we would become rich and popular. As it turned out, nobody needed our “Alyonushka.” Nobody wanted to produce it. We were shocked, we did not know, what to do. Then we decided that it was not a no-go, so we arranged a mind attack, as they say it now. I do not remember, whose idea it was exactly. Someone just offered to email the demo version of the game for free.

What did you think it might lead to?

We were certain that it would help to promote the game, that it would become popular in that way. We also hoped that someone might evince a commercial interest in it, invest money in the game and so on. Of course, we did not count on our Russian businessmen at that period of time – it was the time after the default. That is why, we paid our attention to foreign businessmen. We started surfing websites of various companies, chatrooms and forums, collecting the base of emails. We picked out two or three hundred email addresses. Then we wrote a text of the email, in the English language, of course. Here is what we wrote: “Dear Sir! We are happy to offer you our brand new game titled after a common heroine of famous Russian fairy tales — 'Alyonushka'. As this is our first product, we consider it would be comfortable for everybody to send you a *FREE* copy of it. Since you are going to be the very first player, we wish you to enjoy it. Please, send us your comments on this. Best Regards.

After that we started sending emails, which was a very monotonous and hard work to do. In a couple of days we had our first responses, but they were not the kind of responses that we actually expected. People yelled at us in their emails, they told us to stop posting that spam and viruses. We could not believe it, for it was neither spam, nor viruses. It was our game! To put it short, we never received any kind of a business offer. Every email that we received was an expression of anger. We went mad too, for it was horrible to have such “gratitude” in return to our game that we gave away for free! No one even said thank you. A bit later, a friend of ours saw the game and told us to cheer up. He said he had an idea about it. He said that we did not need to email anything. He said that it would be possible to send it automatically, although a small virus would be needed for that. It was something like retaliation. In addition to that, there was an opportunity that someone might evince interest in the game. We also thought that a user’s struggle with a virus is also a good game to play. Clean software is the real prize for the victory. So, we agreed to take on that, we gave him the files and the text that I showed you. He looked through the text of the email and said that it was not the way to write letters. First of all, he did not like “Dear Sir,” since a reader might not be a man, but a woman. He added that we should simply write “Hi” in the beginning of the email and make its text as short as possible. Here is what we got as a result:

This is a very new game This game is my first work You're the first player I wish you would enjoy it

This text has become extremely popular. Everyone uses it now, sometimes they send emails without the game, which makes them senseless. As far as the game itself is concerned, I still have it unclaimed. No one invested any money in it, and I have to say that it is rather sad, for the game is really good. It has become out of date a little bit nowadays, but I can change it, make it correspond to the spirit of the present time.



Translated by Dmitry Sudakov