My friends and I were recently discussing the now infamous Stuxnet virus which recently disabled Iranian nuclear reactors and supposedly originated from Israel (And by their standards of warfare this was the equivalent of a polite conversation).
Someone in the group was a computer programmer, and he enthused about the skill and intelligence it would take to create such a virus and attach it to such a specific target.
I was a bit bemused by his enthusiasm at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right to approach the topic with the giddiness of a shark spotting a group of swimmers lounging in its territory. The very existence of a computer virus is-in a twisted way- a triumph of mankind’s imagination.
The very existence of a computer virus is something I find remarkable. There is something almost admirable about the fact that such malware is being put out with the same speed as technological process and that its created with the primary intention of causing disruption and disabling its target.
It takes a certain level of unorthodox thinking to look at a computer system and devise ways to plunge it into chaos and inconvenience others from the safety of your own room. You have the elegance and grace of the ‘benevolent’ programs and you have the ugly, destructive efficiency of the computer virus.
It is almost cinematic, and I can almost hear a film trailer in my head as I write this.
Furthermore, you have a clash of ideologies here between the programmers making benign/productive contributions and the pseudo-anarchism of the virus creators. There are programmers and users creating countless computer programs to make our digital experience smoother.
On the other hand, you have those who put all their efforts into creating the opposite. It’s an almost biblical tale of creation versus destruction (although of course in the latter case, our devious friends have to create the virus before it can cause any destruction).
And this creates a vicious circle where viruses have to get better and better to account for the fact that we are figuring out better ways to deal with them.
I’m interested in what motivates those in the latter camp. I’m sure there are those who create viruses in a sort of Frankenstein way- genuine curiosity as to how far one can manipulate the natural order of things. However I am fairly sure there are those who have darker motives.
To quote Michael Caine from the film The dark knight ‘Some men just want to see the world burn.’ Of course anyone who has ever been afflicted with a computer virus will be annoyed at my wide-eyed fascination, but it is interesting how these two forces are in constant opposition to each other.
Every step forward on the technological highway is achieved while fighting off hordes of digital agents of destruction. And paradoxically we need viruses because they make our systems better. Our response to this malware accelerates our digital progress.
And as the stuxnet incident shows, viruses will almost certainly become a valid tool of warfare in the years to come and one which will make certain aspects of science-fiction seem remarkably prophetic.
Technology doesn’t just create the ordinary vandalism that makes you want to smash your computer with a sledgehammer- it also becomes a weapon in a literal sense of the term.
However that is a story for another time.