Click-to-get-infected-ad is a test … of what?

We’ll get to my brother the axe murderer in a moment. But first, let’s all have a good laugh at the expense of the 409 morons who clicked on this Google ad out of a quarter of a million individuals given the opportunity:

Drive-By Download Is your PC virus-free? Get it infected here! After all, only the dimmest of the dimwitted would purposely subject their PC to the promise of a virus. And quantifying the natural occurrence rate of such losers could be seen as the primary result of this experiment conducted by security researcher Didier Stevens.

It isn’t the only one, however. “I designed my ad to make it suspect, but even then it was accepted by Google without problem, and I got no complaints. And many users clicked on it,” Stevens says. “Now, you may think that they were all stupid Windows users, but there is no way to know what motivated them to click on my ad.”

Exactly. So what was the ad testing — security savvy or lack thereof? That’s certainly the conclusion of choice. But what about curiosity? Who could read such an ad and not be curious as to what it’s all about? Couldn’t it be argued that the 409 who clicked through represent the cream of the crop when it comes to thirst for knowledge? What about faith in almighty Google? Certainly if Google accepted the ad, these 409 curious souls may have reasoned, there cannot be any earthly reason to eschew clicking through. (That Google accepted the ad, which ran for months, may be the most interesting result of the experiment, certainly the one most worthy of follow-up.

Or does the experiment test the courage of one’s convictions? Let’s face it, the vast majority of us seeing that ad would presume it to be a joke or a way-out-there advertising gimmick, as opposed to what it claims to be. But how many would display the same resolve to have our instincts proven correct as did our brave 409?

And if you’ve read this far it can only be for one reason: my brother the axe murderer. Brian McNamara is his name, and a programmer, not an axe murderer, but he does tell a doozy of a story about having hitchhiked cross-country in his wild-and-crazy younger days, armed not merely with a pair of thumbs and a smile but also a cardboard sign that read: “Axe Murderer” … highly effective, too, he says. My brother and all the people who gave him rides back then were but trailblazers for the fearless 409 who stared down Didier Stevens’ experimental Google ad and clicked without blinking. Are they morons? Oh, no, I call them heroes.

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