World's Biggest Supercomputer is a Virus?

Illustration for article titled Worlds Biggest Supercomputer is a Virus?

The Storm Worm Botnet currently infects between one and ten million computers worldwide, which means that it has access to a huge amount of processing power and somewhere between 1 and 10 petabytes of RAM. This apparently makes it one of the most powerful computers in the world, with more computing power than the ten fastest supercomputers in the world combined.

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These interesting but admittedly vague and flaky estimates come from computer scientist Peter Gutman. Although you can pick at the numbers quite easily, the guy makes a very interesting point. While projects like Seti@Home can harness a lot of computing power, a virus or worm that doesn't need to ask permission from a user could conceivably be vastly more powerful. Imagine the potential if virus writers found more interesting things to do with those cycles than send spam.

Will the first person to find extraterrestrial signals be an amateur hacker, rather than Seti? Could complex protein folding solutions be found by bored crackers? And would the benevolent act of finding a cure for a genetic illness outweigh the malevolent act of creating the worm that rounded up the processing cycles needed to do it? [Uber Review]

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DISCUSSION

The answer to your third question is very clear, from a medical ethics point of view. Harming someone against their will, or without their permission, even in the cause of discovery and healing, is not ethical. This is exactly the same sort of question the Nazi Doctor trials were about following WWII. The degree of individual damage may be less, but that doesn't change the implications. I'd say it would be almost guaranteed no reputable journal would publish an article with data collected by those methods. And I doubt anyone running a million computer botnet (and sending out spam), could be termed either "amateur" or "benevolent".