Could computer viruses one day cross from technology to biology? While it sounds like a bad Hollywood movie, researchers at Black Hat Europe don’t think the idea is farfetched. According to Guillaume Lovet, senior manager at the Fortinet’s (News - Alert) Threat Research and Response Center, “we are really on the border between the living and the not living.”
Considering similarities between computer and human viruses, Fortinet researchers wanted to show how the human immune system is more advanced than antivirus systems in battling virus attacks. HIV can then be compared to a Denial of Service (DoS) attachment, where both types of viruses overload a system until it goes down.
The attack methods of both viruses are also pretty similar. The W32/Sality virus works the same way by terminating other protective systems making the system vulnerable to other attacks.
Self-infection is also possible on both computers and humans. While computers get infected by visiting other websites or via download, humans infect each other either via contact or airborne. Replication is another similarity that has been found between human and computer viruses. A virus like the influenza virus mutates itself, making it difficult to treat. For computer viruses it’s a security analyst’s nightmare. Once a virus mutates, antivirus signatures are rendered useless.
One difference, however, is that computer viruses cannot be rewritten; they only change form. “Only the package is changed,” noted Nigam, a security researcher at Fortinet.
Compared to the flu however, they are able to incubate until a convenient time for infection to be found. Computer viruses are also superior in that they can perform encryption and antidebugging tricks. Most human viruses basically DNA or RNA code and computer viruses follow suit, allowing speculation that the two could somehow merge in the future.
With pacemakers, cochlear implants and deep brain stimulators already in some people, it is necessary for these devices to communicate with an external machine, making them vulnerable to computer viruses. Biotechnology now makes it possible to synthesize bacteria and organisms genetically with all the DNA code stored on computers.
“Seeing that the infamous Stuxnet virus, in 2010, was able to creep through a uranium enrichment plant, seize control of its PLC (programmable logic controller) and destroy its centrifuging gear, one could reasonably think that a virus infecting the computers sporting DNA databases is not outside the realm of possibility,” According to the Fortinet paper. “Conversely, software used when sequencing DNA of a living organism, and databases storing bits that code for that sequence, are probably not absent of vulnerabilities."
Edited by Braden Becker