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"We can only hope that this sentence will be enough to deter other script-kiddies from distributing malicious code. The fact remains that young people testing out their computer skills in their bedrooms cost businesses thousands of pounds to restore their systems hit by viruses. The good news for businesses is that Microsoft is having success in tracking down and prosecuting the perpetrators of internet crime."
Feed the Worms Who Write Worms to the Worms
The economic logic of executing computer hackers.
By Steven E. Landsburg
Posted Wednesday, May 26, 2004, at 2:14 PM PT
If we execute murderers, why don't we execute the people who write computer worms? It would probably be a better investment.
Let's do the math. What do we get out of executing a murderer? Deterrence. A high-end estimate is that each execution deters about 10 murders. (The highest estimate I've ever seen is 24 murders deterred per execution, but the closest thing to a consensus estimate in the econometric literature is about eight.) That's 10 lives saved, with a value—again a high-end estimate—of about $10 million apiece. (The closet thing to a consensus estimate in the economics literature is about $7 million per life. I am rounding up.) So let's say the benefit of executing a murderer is roughly 10 times $10 million, or $100 million—and that's probably at the high end.
Compare that to the benefit of executing the author of a computer worm, virus, or Trojan. There seems to be no good name for such people, so I'll make one up—at least until some reader sends in a better suggestion, I'll call them "vermiscripters." It's estimated that vermiscripting and related activities cost the world about $50 billion a year. So if a single execution could deter just one-fifth of 1 percent of all vermiscripting for just one year, we'd gain the same $100-million benefit we earn by executing a killer. Anything over one-fifth of 1 percent, and any effects that last beyond the first year, are gravy.