I've seen all sorts of speculation on why malware is created and distributed, but is there any hard evidence of what exactly it does and why? Please point me to any online resources.

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    1 W4N7 t0 PWN J00R m4cH1N3, 7H@ 1Z wHy 1 1N574lL M4Lw4R3! ;-) – Chris W. Rea Jul 29 '09 at 1:06
  • I mean, uh, good question :-) – Chris W. Rea Jul 29 '09 at 1:10

As usual, follow the money...

There are many incentives to create malware, but almost any malware you'll see today is intended to gain illegal profit.

The classic way of doing that is making your computer send lots and lots of spam. If the malware creator has a large number of computers that do that, the spam is very hard to recognize as such, because it is not originated from a single source. This network of spam computers is often reffered to as BotNet.

EDIT: You can find many references at the bottom of the Wikipedia article linked above.

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    The botnet owner usually makes most of their money off of renting control of the botnet to various agencies to send out spam and do other things. Lately, a big thing is blackmailing business by threatening to use the botnet to launch a Distributed denial of service attack (DDos) unless they are paid a hefty sum. As for spam, the math is pretty easy. You're selling viagra at 19.95 a bottle. You send 1 billion spam messages and get a 1% hit rate, with 1% of those actually buying. You paid $10000 to rent the botnet, for a total profit of $1,985,000 - the time spent. – RascalKing Jul 28 '09 at 22:47
  • +1 -- Organized crime is the current iteration of malware generation. – romandas Jul 29 '09 at 3:29

Different malware is distributed for different purposes.

Some Botnets are used for stealing passwords and credit card information.

Some Botnets are used to make Distributed Denial of Service attacks. Sometimes that's used to get websites to pay ransom money to avoid becoming shut down.

Some Botnets are used as infrastucture for illegal activity like child pornography.

Some Botnets get used to send out spam.

Sometimes the Botnets also get simply rented out and the person who rents it can do whatever he wants with it.

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No better place to go then Wikipedia here

Specifically the references sections as well as the see also section.

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Graham Cluley's blog is very good and very informative:
http://www.sophos.com/blogs/gc/g/category/clu-blog/, as is the SophosLabs blog.

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