AOH :: ISN-1742.HTM

Scientists, be on guard ... ET might be a malicious hacker




Scientists, be on guard ... ET might be a malicious hacker
Scientists, be on guard ... ET might be a malicious hacker



http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/research/story/0,9865,1650649,00.html 

Ian Sample
science correspondent
November 25, 2005
The Guardian 

As if spotty teenagers releasing computer viruses on to the internet
from darkened rooms were not enough of a headache. According to a
scientific report, planet Earth's computers are wide open to a virus
attack from Little Green Men.

The concern is raised in the next issue of the journal Acta
Astronautica by Richard Carrigan, a particle physicist at the US Fermi
National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. He believes scientists
searching the heavens for signals from extra-terrestrial civilisations
are putting Earth's security at risk, by distributing the jumble of
signals they receive to computers all over the world.

The search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (Seti) project, based at
the University of California in Berkeley, uses land-based telescopes
to scour the universe for electromagnetic waves. Just as stray radio
and TV broadcasts are now zooming away from Earth at the speed of
light, the Seti scientists hope to pick up stray signals, or even
intentional interplanetary broadcasts, emitted from other
civilisations.

All signals picked up by Seti are broken up and sent across the
internet to a vast band of volunteers who have signed up for a Seti
screensaver, which allows their computers to crunch away at the
signals, when they are not at their desks.

So far, the only signals detected are bursts of radiation from stars
and a murmur of background noise left over from the big bang. But,
says Dr Carrigan, improved telescopes and faster computers mean
scientists are ever more likely to detect a signal from
extra-terrestrials.

In his report, entitled Do potential Seti signals need to be
decontaminated?, he suggests the Seti scientists may be too blase
about finding a signal. "In science fiction, all the aliens are bad,
but in the world of science, they are all good and simply want to get
in touch." His main concern is that, intentionally or otherwise, an
extra-terrestrial signal picked up by the Seti team could cause
widespread damage to computers if released on to the internet without
being checked.

Computer scientists argue that to hack a computer, or write a virus
that will infect it, requires a knowledge of how the computer and the
software it is running work: a computer on Earth is going to be as
alien to the aliens as they would be to us. But Dr Carrigan says there
is still a risk.

Rather than dismiss his concerns, Dr Carrigan wants the Seti
scientists to build safety features into their network to act as a
quarantine so any potentially damaging signals can be trapped before
they infect the internet.



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