March 28, 2012

Could human and computer viruses merge?

Via Scientific American:
Although this possibility may sound like a foray into science fiction, information security experts believe the blurring of the boundaries between computer and biological viruses is not so far-fetched—and could have very real consequences.

As TechWorld reports, Axelle Apvrille and Guillaume Lovet of the network security company Fortinet presented a paper comparing human and computer virology and exploring some of the potential dangers at last week’s Black Hat Europe conference.

Both computer and biological viruses, they explain in their paper, can be defined as “information that codes for parasitic behavior.” In biology, a virus’s code is written in DNA or RNA and is much smaller than the code making up a computer virus. The DNA of a flu virus, for example, could be described with about 23,000 bits, whereas the average computer virus would fall in a range 10 to 100 times bigger.

The origins of each virus are strikingly different: A computer virus is designed, whereas a biological virus evolves under pressure from natural selection. But what would happen if these origins are switched? Could hackers code for a super-virus, or a computer virus emerge out of the information “wilderness” and evolve over time?

Apvrille and Lovet argued that both scenarios are possible, with a few caveats to each. Scientists have already synthesized viruses such as polio and SARS for research purposes, so it’s conceivable that someone could synthesize viruses as bioweaponry. That said, Apvrille and Lovet observed that viruses are notoriously difficult to control, and it’s hard to imagine anyone could use a viral weapon without it backfiring.

No comments: