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Business - Written by on Thursday, March 19, 2009 15:00 - 3 Comments

Steve Guengerich
Skynet lives…in Eastern Europe?

Given the worldwide celebrity of the Governator, nearly everyone has seen or heard of the Terminator movie series, where an apocalyptic future is caused (and later averted through some tricky time travel) by an all-powerful military computer network called Skynet.

Well, today, NY Times reporter John Markoff gave a progress report on the latest in a global battle between the creator (or more like creators) of an ultra-sophisticated computer work, called Conficker, and a group of computer security experts, developers, and law enforcement agencies, rallied together by the ICANN.The Conficker worm is software code that is intended to infect and then control millions of computers (which when infected, are known as zombies) so that they can be operated like one giant computer, referred to as a botnet. The zombie computer networks can be used in many ways, from generating attacks on other computer networks, to distributing malicious software and pernicious messages like spam, to seizing control of Internet domain names.

The article starts off as an interesting update on the worm and how it has been increasingly strengthened since it was first released late last year. But, where is goes from interesting to downright fascinating is when it turns to the subject of motivation by the Conficker creators.

Quoting: “The growing suspicion is that Conficker will ultimately be a computing-for-hire scheme. Researchers expect it will imitate the hottest fad in the computer industry, called cloud computing, in which companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Sun sell computing as a service over the Internet.”

Although there have been clues about the Conficker author’s (or authors’) location – not the least of which is that among the very first things the worm does is check for a Ukrainian keyboard – the evidence is inconclusive. But, the odds are on a very advanced and productive team centered in Eastern Europe.

Think about it: a shadow, criminal cloud computing network, as powerful as any available from the world’s leading information technology companies. What does this mean? SRI International researchers have written extensively about the worm, including detailed examination of its code. In the article by the Times’ Markoff, in answer to the question of meaning, he quotes SRI research director Phillip Porras with the following: “Perhaps in the best case, Conficker may be used as a sustained and profitable platform for massive Internet fraud and theft. In the worst case, Conficker could be turned into a powerful offensive weapon for performing concerted information warfare attacks that could disrupt not just countries, but the Internet itself.”

So, a pre-cognitive version of Skynet lives. But, behind it, the principles of wikinomics – mass collaboration amongst two apparently passionate dedicated groups of people, one on each side of international law – is playing out in a way that could have profound effects on our public and private information flow for years, if not for sure by April 1.


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Mar 20, 2009 7:31

I would like to know more about this.

Angel of Reincarnation

Birthdate: April 1, 1985

Wikinomics» Blog Archive » Skynet (aka Conficker) - the long view
Apr 1, 2009 8:21

[...] my last entry, I wrote about the fascinating thesis of the smart people following Conficker’s purpose, [...]

Tobias Holbrook
Apr 1, 2009 9:04

Has anyone considered the possiblity that Conficker could simply be being replaced by version E? Obviously, if it’s activating itself in a noticeable way version E will be very different. Maybe evolution capabilities?

the MoD in the Uk has been infected, as well as the NHS. If the worm gives its creators control…

Especially if the virus (hmmm… I made a typo there and said Virium., so I’m officiallty coining the new word for a virus, in the same way as Bacterium) evolves beyond the control of its creators.

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