November 25, 2005

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Little Green Hackers?

This report in today's UK Guardian newspaper is a painfully funny reminder that it's not just your Granny who doesn't know squat about computers. Dr Richard Carrigan, a particle physicist from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, warns SETI researchers that signals detected from an alien civilisation might contain computer viruses that could spread through the Internet, infecting millions of computers.

He claims that by farming out SETI data willy-nilly around the web (via seti@home for example), the risk of spreading a space-born computer virus is greatly increased.

Maybe it's just me, but isn't that the dumbest thing you ever heard? A computer virus must, by its very nature, be capable of carrying out instructions in order to wreak any kind of damage at all. That means it has to be an executable of some kind - a script, or a binary executable or what have you. The executable instructions that make up the virus have to be carried out by some kind of interpreter or run-time engine. That means the instructions would have to be written in a language our PC's can readily understand - like Java byte code or VBScript, for example. It would also require us to recognise the message as being executable in order to have it executed - I don't know about you, but my copy of the seti@home software doesn't automatically associate message contents with, say, Microsoft Word. OLE isn't part of the alien message file format standard just yet...

And if they did send us a malicious script, would we just double-click and run it without reading it first and figuring out what it does? Indeed, how could we know it was executable without reading it first? Or perhaps Dr Carrigan is worried about SETI researchers randomly copying and pasting the contents of these messages into files ending with .exe or .vbs and then executing them to see if anything happens? Bit of a long shot, isn't it?

So is this Fermi's new paradox - If we're all so smart, why are some of our physicists so dumb?

What was that guy's name again? Richard Carrigan? Dr Richard Carrigan? Dr Richard Carrigan from the Fermi National Particle Accelerator Lab?

Maybe he's not so dumb after all...
Posted 15 years, 2 months ago on November 25, 2005