Keeping watch for interstellar computer viruses

Monday, 17 November 2003, 6:53 AM EST

Microsoft may have to fork up big bounty bucks trying to unearth future hackers, particularly when they are light years away on distant worlds.

Add one more worry to the computerized world of the 21st century. Could a signal from the stars broadcast by an alien intelligence also carry harmful information, in the spirit of a computer virus? Could star folk launch a "disinformation" campaign - one that covers up aspects of their culture? Perhaps they might even mask the "real" intent of dispatching a message to other civilizations scattered throughout the Cosmos.

These are concerns that deserve attention explains Richard Carrigan, Jr., a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. Those engaged in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), he contends, should think about decontaminating potential SETI signals.

The so-called "SETI Hacker" hypothesis, Carrigan argues, is an issue of interstellar discourse that should be taken seriously. We should exercise caution when handling SETI downloads, he said.

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