Saturday, March 6, 2010

Weather Worms

This evening, I was going through the citations of my (and collaborators') 2004 paper The Top Speed of Flash Worms which pointed out that there were designs for Internet worms that could infect almost all vulnerable computers in a second or two, depending on your exact assumptions.  This is something that seems pretty obvious in hindsight, but hadn't been noticed before, or at least not in public.

I was going through the citations kind of generally looking for interesting updates on what else you could do as a result of being able to do that.  There were a number of somewhat interesting papers of the "Here's how to go even faster" variety, but one crazy-ass paper by Szabo et al at the University of Calgary caught my attention with the concept of a "Weather Worm":
We introduce the idea of weather worms, worms that can automat-
ically identify abnormal events and their location, and target computers
at that physical location. Such worms could be used to take advantage
of poorly-defended computers in a disaster zone, and could even amplify
the effects of a physical terrorist attack.
They then spend 14 or 15 pages examining the engineering challenges of building such a computer worm that would sit around not doing much except reading online news sites until it automatically identified that a disastrous event was occurring, then figured out where the event was happening physically, mapped that to a set of Internet addresses, and then headed over to pile onto the unlucky victims of the disaster by infecting their computers too.

I must admit that I'm not really quite sure what the motivation would be for the author of such a worm - general nihilism presumably, but then that might be better served by just attacking everywhere at once right away, and not just the unlucky denizens of future iterations of New Orleans.

Still, if anyone were ever motivated to write and release this kind of thing, I guess the fact that ongoing climate change means that extreme snowstorms, droughts, floods, category five hurricanes, etc, will all get more common will give the weather worms plenty to do.

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