Earth’s most destructive computer virus

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It doesn’t take much thought to imagine the possibility of a virus which could change the internet as we know it. Similar incidents have occurred in the past, albeit on a smaller scale, which show that this could be possible. For example the “WannaCry” ransomware attack which occurred in May 2017 or the “mydoom” worm which run wild during 2004, and functioned through sending junk email from infected computers to the attacked computer. The worm appears to show an email transmission error and has an attachment of itself. If the user clicks on it, it immediately sends itself to all the emails in the user’s address book. The program spread incredibly quickly, infecting around 2,000,000 computers and caused approximately $38 billion in damages, also apparently slowing down the entire internet by 10% on the day of release. The program contained a line:

“andy; i’m just doing my job, nothing personal, sorry”

which lead investigators to believe the worm’s creator was paid. It is still believed that the program originated in Russia. However, the original source and programmer have never been discovered. This shows the severe consequences a comparatively simple program can cause without even any repercussions for the author of such a virus.

Despite the fact that this particular virus was created a comparatively long time ago in the world of computers, the concept that files are able to be so easily spread is still a cause for concern. There is a theory known as “Six degrees of separation” which is the idea that all people on average are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other. This concept was originally proposed in 1929 by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy in a short story called “chains”. This concept still stands strong in today’s society, if not even more so, with many people featuring on social media sites and pages with ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ that they don’t actually know. Without wanting to sound like a parent, putting trust in people we don’t know only exposes us to more risks. The latest approximated result was 3.57 degrees of separation which was estimated during a research blogpost by Facebook in 2016 by compiling data from their 721 million users at the time. (fig. 1)

fig. 1

This constant high quantity of connections to others, despite often incredibly helpful, has the possibility to create a faster connection between a starting point and an end point. Let me go theoretical for a moment: Suppose there is a hypothetical computer virus which is able to pass through multiple forms across the internet. It would then be plausible for a virus to be able to originate from a simple email, similarly to “mydoom”, or to exist as a trojan from which the virus could take control of the victim’s computer, accessing pre-saved passwords from the victim’s password manager. This could be achieved by using a collection of a keylogger to locate the master password (presuming a password manager is being used) after detecting a password manager site had been visited. From here the virus could wait until the computer becomes idle and use a virtual keyboard to visit the password manager’s site again, log in and obtain  the passwords, then it could log into any discovered social media platforms and duplicate itself onto other computers through a post or a thread hiding the virus once again as a trojan. This process would then be able to recur automatically until a large enough number of computers have become harnessed.

Some may still be wondering the point of creating an attack as sophisticated as this. Well quite simply this would create, similarly to other trojans, a dormant army of computers awaiting an awakening by their creators to do any number of plausible attacks. Whether this be a hidden cryptocurrency (eg bitcoin) miner on the harnessed computers, leading to an overall income for the creator of the virus, or, what some may consider a much more interesting outcome, where every connected computer can simultaneously create a distributed denial of service attack (fig.2) which would mean that a large amount of websites could be instantly crashed. Or maybe even deleting every social media profile of the infected computers, leading to a severe financial loss for the social media site affected through having no customers to serve adverts to, in doing so acting as a digital boycott.

fig. 2

 

I feel that the destruction of the internet has been a piece of science fiction until now with only exaggerated news articles creating the fearmongering that a world without an internet could be a possibility. In the modern world the need for an elevated amount of internet security has not been greater and as we become more easily connected with almost every device in our lives, or at least having the option to be connected, it makes it more and more possible that we could be plunged back into a pre-technology world.

Thankfully, there is hope: as quickly as our technology is developing so is the security to be able to protect it. It is clear that as technology continues to develop there will be a shift in job types from more traditional styles, such as in-person services, into a more knowledge-based part of the economy, where jobs will become much more centred around supporting existing technologies and building upon them, as the economy moves into the quaternary sector and away from the tertiary sector and services.

To conclude, technology is developing at an incredibly fast rate, with threats rising at a similarly consistent rate. The speed of development shouldn’t necessarily be a cause for concern, provided that the uses for the newly created technology are tested and secure. But there is always a small chance, however small this may be, that information isn’t secure. Whilst suggesting that people use a computer disconnected from the internet is far too extreme for the small level of risk, even not being on social media in the modern age could be seen as a negative when applying for a job. Employers often consider that it is harder to collectively talk to a team when they do not all use the same platform.  The only way of keeping your files secure for certain is surely by having a backup of your most important files somewhere safe, disconnected, and away from the internet’s grasping hand.