Frankenstein Virus Steals Code From Other Programs

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Well, this should terrify anyone who has ever experienced the perfectly rational terror inspired by machines that can think for themselves. New Scientist reports that computer scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas have created a computer virus, dubbed Frankenstein, that can make itself more damaging and harder for systems to detect by stealing bits and pieces of code from other programs. If you don’t think this ends in a supervirus running out of control through the Internet, making machines come to life and subjugating humanity, you are not being anywhere near reactionary enough.

Frankenstein is programmed with a set of goals, but not with the tools to carry them out. What it does have is the ability to swipe parts from other programs to build the tools it needs. By copying gadgets — short strings of code that define simple, everyday operations — from other common programs, like Internet Explorer, and bending them to its own nefarious will, Frankenstein is able to live off the fat of the land, forging the tools for the job from whatever it finds. Like that kid in the Hatchet books, if he was a computer virus and also probably evil. That’s not Frankenstein’s only nasty trick, though.

Every time it infects a new computer, the malware will seek out different gadgets from different programs to create the code it needs to get to work. Since it’s constantly changing its face as it moves through a network, any virus built on an evolving framework like Frankenstein’s would be very hard to track. Combined with the fact that the core of Frankenstein’s programming — including its gadget-swiping mechanisms — can adapt to blend in with standard software programs, and you’ve got the sort of software that keeps us up at night.

Thankfully, the program is just a test right now, running a couple of simple algorithms. Keep in mind, though, at some point, that’s exactly what someone said about SkyNet, and that plague monkey in Outbreak. If blockbuster films from the 1990s have taught us anything about the way real life works — and I like to think they have, because otherwise I am just making a series of increasingly embarrassing mistakes with my life — we are all now officially doomed.

(via New Scientist)

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