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Is SETI a Security Risk?

Hemos posted more than 8 years ago | from the a-whole-new-level-of-paranoia dept.

Space 527

Dotnaught writes "Richard Carrigan, a particle physicist at the US Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, fears the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) may be putting the earth at risk. As reported in the Guardian, Carrigan frets that alien radio signals could pose a security risk. The report cites a 2003 paper entitled "Do potential Seti signals need to be decontaminated?" but Carrigan's website has more details. Basically, he's calling for isolation of SETI computers and additional security measures. He writes, "To paraphrase Cocconi and Morrison for the possibility of a malevolent SETI signal ...the probability of a contaminated SETI signal is difficult to estimate; but if we never consider it the chance of infection is not zero."" Frankly, I'm more worried about some phishing malcontent then I am about the Grays, but maybe that's just me.

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Chicken and Egg. (5, Insightful)

FalconZero (607567) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128495)

From TFA:
  1. Raw signal in memory must bootstrap to status of operating program
  2. Program must then untangle the inner workings of the host. (Is it possible to now build a diagnosis program to determine the operating set of an unfamiliar computer?)
I'm not a software engineer but... no, wait, I AM a software engineer, so I'm curious, how does this 'virus' execute step 1 [Buffer Overrun & Privilage Escalation] without doing step 2 first [Determine instruction set for system] (Which incidentally requires step one to have been performed first.)
As far as I see it, theres as much chance of data in the recieve buffer created by background radiation being a viable 'virus' as there is a deliberate chunk of data will be

This sounds suspiciously like :
1) Send malicious code
2) ...
3) Infect universe (and profit)

Re:Chicken and Egg. (4, Funny)

Nos. (179609) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128510)

They did it in Independance Day!

Re:Chicken and Egg. (2, Informative)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128534)

Ask Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum.
I get the idea that Steve Jobs might have something to say about it as well.

To me, the idea that an outside signal can be manipulated and sent in just the right way to overflow our validation network is akin to shakespeare and monkeys.

However - I can see somebody managing to send dirty packets down to the clients after hacking the SETI central computers (somehow, lots of hand waving etc) to put bad data there which could exploit a seemingly trivial problem with the seti client.

Not aliens though.

Re:Chicken and Egg. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128553)

Step 1: Get Underpants! Step 3: PROFIT!

Re:Chicken and Egg. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128582)

No, no, statistical evidence shows that they're most likely to be running Windows - not to mention the lower TCO reduces the running cost of your mothership compared to free alternatives.

Wait, we all know from Independence Day that the aliens use Mac OS.

Re:Chicken and Egg. (4, Funny)

m4dm4n (888871) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128593)

"the probability of a contaminated SETI signal is difficult to estimate;"

Is that because his PC couldn't deal with numbers that small?

Re:Chicken and Egg. (5, Informative)

djmurdoch (306849) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128610)

The possibility that extraterrestrials will take over SETI is pretty remote, but SETI is still a security risk. In decreasing level of probability, I'd say the risks are:

  - someone could hack the server and send out malicious code with the next software update

  - someone could hack the data stream and inject malicious data into it (assuming there really is such a thing as malicious data, which I find hard to believe).

  - someone terrestrial could broadcast malicious data in such a way that the SETI telescopes pick it up and think that it's ET in origin.

  - an ET could broadcast malicious data, after having picked up a copy of the SETI software and analyzing it.

  - an ET could broadcast malicious data without knowing what the receiver is like (the worry describe in TFA).

Re:Chicken and Egg. (5, Insightful)

a_nonamiss (743253) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128633)

You're using the mindset that these ET's are of similar intelligience to humans. We tend to do that as a species. But imagine, if you will, a civilization that is only 2000+ years more advanced that us. And realistically, and civilization advanced enough to receive our radio waves and respond is likely greater than 2000 years more advanced than us. Consider how very short 2000 years is in a universal timescale. To this advanced civilization, our advanced code is nothing more than a toddler's plaything. We can't even begin to fathom the ways in which they could potentially expolit our security.

It's like if the Romans built a huge wall and said "That will keep out anyone. It's not possible to breach it." Using our technology, which is 2000 years more advanced, (less, actually) we could fly an B2 bomber over the city and drop a couple 2000 pound bombs. The pinnalce of their most advanced security would last less than 10 seconds against the most basic of our assaults.

I know this is a little different when talking about computer security, but just as the Romans couldn't even imagine in their wildest dreams a B2 bomber, let alone how it could possible get past their impenetrable wall, we can't conceive of the technology that could be used to "infect" our computers. In 2000 years, who knows what kind of power we would have to defeat such a system? We can't know because it's beyond even our wildest imagination.

Re:Chicken and Egg. (5, Insightful)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128722)

we can't conceive of the technology that could be used to "infect" our computers.



And that's the flaw in your B2-Bomber-argument. The aliens would be stuck with using our (extremely primitive) technology. We know pretty well how our computers work, and can figure out most ways to break/hack/crack them ourselves in a short timespan.



It's a bit like using the tools and technologies the Romans had at that time and trying build that B2 bomber.

Re:Chicken and Egg. (1)

JWW (79176) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128749)

but just as the Romans couldn't even imagine in their wildest dreams a B2 bomber

Of course, it would have to be a B2 instead of a B1 or any other type of bomber so that it won't be detected by the Romans RADAR. ;-)

You forgot the obvious... (3, Funny)

beh (4759) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128703)


Since mankind came about through "Intelligent Design", so will the aliens. And hence it's natural that their Intelligent Design also led them to having Windows (completely independently developed - but still the same thing - it's in our eternally unchangeable intelligently designed genes, remember?)

*smile*

Somehow I wouldn't be quite so surprised if it really turned out the guy would be a creationist... ;-)

Aw heck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128730)

This will prove that everybody in the known universe KNOWS that windows is trivial to infect.

Re:Chicken and Egg. (1)

Xzzy (111297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128745)

I'm not a software engineer but... no, wait, I AM a software engineer,

Many physicists seem to consider themselves so brilliant, they can do other people's jobs as well as their own. Fermilab is riddled with examples, from decripit buildings they designed on their own, to gigabytes worth of python code operating mission-critical analysis.

This guy appears to be one of of those types. Because he's employed at a fancy pants government research center, he gets airtime for things he has no business talking about.

Re:Chicken and Egg. (2, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128747)

It's worse than that - its some stupid nuge who is trying to create a name for themselves by pointing out "potential risks."

We've seen this behaviour before with the whole y2k problem, people using it as an avenue for self-promotion. There were some risks, but they were being addressed; at the same time, people were going ape-shit. Supposedly, planes would fall out of the sky, elevators, water systems, and electrical plants would all stop, etc, and we were told that no amount of work would find enough of the problems to prevent a global catastrophe.

In actual fact, the biggest problem turned out to be all these people who had stocked up with a years' supply of stuff, and who then didn't need to buy shit for the next 6 months, causing a dip in consumer spending.

Hello, my name is Zaphod and I am the vice-regal advisor to His Imperial Majesty, XnthE 439, Supreme Ruler of the Galazy. I have access to the royal galactic accounts, and have found that the sum of 34 bazillion galactic credits lying dormant in one such account. If youy could send me your banking details, I am sure we could work out a most generous arrangement to our mutual benefit.

Never mind that, after 50 millenia of inflation, even at 1%, 34 bazillion galactic credits is about $0.93.

I'm sure aliens have better things to do than infect our computers. Bill Gates does a good enough job of that by himself. (Hey, maybe Gates is a pod person).

Aliens vs. Buffer Overflow (1)

mynickwastaken (690966) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128504)

Real inteligent species cannot even imagine that some other inteligent species can be so stupid to program with buffer overflows in their software.
So, nothing to see here move along...

Wow (1)

w.p.richardson (218394) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128506)

That really, really, really doesn't seem like an item that should even register on the worry list.

Aliens surmise that radio signals can be intercepted and decoded by individuals light years away and then go to the trouble of sending a signal encoded with a virus of some sort? Someone needs to get out more often, methinks.

Re:Wow (1)

lee n. field (750817) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128607)

That really, really, really doesn't seem like an item that should even register on the worry list.

Right-o. Current thought as I follow it seems to be that, in fact, there ain't anyone else out there (or at least vanishingly few).

Is SETI a Security Risk? for EARTH (0, Offtopic)

anandpur (303114) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128507)

First I thought SETI is risk to earth itself. What if aliens are listning us and preparing for something big!

Re:Is SETI a Security Risk? for EARTH (1)

246o1 (914193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128728)

First I thought SETI is risk to earth itself. What if aliens are listning us and preparing for something big!
Assuming this wasn't intended as humor, we have been BROADcasting signals for about a century, and that means that aliens out there will get to hear all about the glories of the Third Reich, etc. SETI is an attempt to put forth our best face (perhaps, you know, tolerance! moderate intelligence! no death penalty for our young in a lot of countries! &c & whatever), and to listen for responses to some of the noise we've been sending out.

Hmm... Is it just me or is this guy... (4, Insightful)

beh (4759) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128512)

...completely out of his mind?

Granted - once we had contact any alien civilisation could also get into a situation where they could potentially send malware to Earth.

But - isn't Seti right now looking at data from stars a good number of lightyears away? How likely is it that aliens on the off chance of infecting a computer would send out virusses and/or worms that would run on current CPUs and chipsets, using security holes that are current NOW? (Remember - if aliens 10 lightyears away would get hold of enough Earth signals to decode Intel assembly language and to understand Windows security holes, even if they could decipher all that overnight and write a terminal computer virus in another hour - it still took them 10 years to receive the signals from us and it would take another 10 years for them to come back). How likely is it that a virus working on 20 year old hard-/software (including OS and everything) would still work on a large portion of critical infrastructure today?

Given that Seti only checks data, but doesn't try to execute it, shields us even further from the whole thing...

Or - is Mr. Carrigan now assuming that there is an imminent threat of an attack by Bin Laden against the Internet - through Seti@home ?
Now that would make even Bush sound perfectly sane... ;-)

Re:Hmm... Is it just me or is this guy... (2, Funny)

Itchy Rich (818896) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128600)

...completely out of his mind?

Yes, he's clearly a nutjob. If SETI signals contain anything it'll be adverts for penis enlargement.

Re:Hmm... Is it just me or is this guy... (1)

OverlordQ (264228) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128684)

Oh come on, it's easy to do [imdb.com] , we just better hope the aliens dont have any telephone repairmen.

Re:Hmm... Is it just me or is this guy... (2, Insightful)

EarlW (530437) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128691)

"Given that Seti only checks data, but doesn't try to execute it, shields us even further from the whole thing..."
Correct. Substitute SETI for fax (or television) and you can see how ridiculous this is. The data is analysed for patterns, just as a fax machine converts the dots into an image. Are aliens sending faxes or TV shows? Is there a chance of getting a virus from a fax? No.

Eat at Earth (2, Funny)

Dareth (47614) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128698)

What we should be worried about is the interstellar equivalent of flashing road sign saying,
"Eat at Earth".

And even if they do not want to eat us, who says we won't want to eat them. If Broccoli based aliens land on Earth, I will become a mass serial killer running around with a jar of cheese whiz!

Re:Hmm... Is it just me or is this guy... (2, Informative)

Xzzy (111297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128706)

...completely out of his mind?

He's a physicist. If you thought the socially inept uber nerd was a dying or dead species, they aren't. Far from it really. Walk around Fermilab's cafeteria at lunch and you can witness some absolutely stunning samples. Even worse are the ones who carry these traits, and think they're far more intelligent than they are. The arrogance these guys can carry is indescribable.

Yes I'm generalizing, but it's hard not to. For every well adjusted, friendly physicist there's at least one other who thinks himself a living diety.

It's just you ;) (3, Insightful)

headkase (533448) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128717)

I belive he's talking about those pesky abstractions we all use without a thought everyday. Basically, the scenario unfolds in this way: you recieve information from a entity and the ideas contained within said information can be helpful (like Universal Cure) to harmful or disruptive (something along the lines of a memetic virus).
It would be a nasty trick for an alien civilization to give us the most destructive weapon possible without giving us accompaning social skill's as well. Or we could figuratively be on the 'beads' end in some initial contact scenario.
To quote Morris Berman, "An idea is something you have, an ideology is something that has you.". An old alien civilization out there could just be very good at constructing ideologies. I'm not saying now is the time to consider this chance, rather that it should be considered when alien contact occurs.

This is ridiculous (4, Funny)

Stevyn (691306) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128513)

Did this guy just watch "Independence Day" or something?

Re:This is ridiculous (1)

aurb (674003) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128660)

That's it, I'm removing my seti@home. I don't want any malware from outerspace.

Re:This is ridiculous (1)

brxndxn (461473) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128732)

Independence Day taught me one thing...

PC's can be easily infected by other humans... relatively benign

Macs can be infected by aliens!!!... extinction of the human race!

So.. just don't run SETI on Macs (because they're compatible with every computer in the universe, including their viruses) and you will be able to keep your puny human I mean precious race..

They're thinking all wrong. (5, Funny)

Phae (920315) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128515)

I've seen this movie, but it's the other way around. We're the ones that upload the virus to the aliens, not them to us... don't be silly.

Re:They're thinking all wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128725)

No no no - that happend in War of the Worlds -- oh wait...

Threshold, (1)

imdx80 (842737) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128520)

Theres at least one viewer of threshold right there.

I'm really worried (4, Insightful)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128523)

Because, of course, the aliens use binary Von Neumann machines with register/accumulator architectures, and instruction sets we're familiar with.

Independence day (1, Redundant)

frostilicus2 (889524) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128525)

If Will Smith can do it, it must be true.

Re:Independence day (1)

Shawn is an Asshole (845769) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128645)

Wouldn't that be Jeff Goldblum? He is the one that wrote the virus, after all... Will Smith just flew the ship.

Didn't you know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128529)

Alien's don't exist!

Risk 0:1 (1)

stecoop (759508) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128531)

This brings up so interesting thoughts/concerns but I would have to say the risk of a virus is so close to 0 that I am going to say there is a ZERO chance of this happening. An alien race receives our signals that are 50 years out of date then have to predict 50 years in the future to send the signal back. Having 100-year technology/prediction gap, then they are so advance that they wouldn't infect our computer, they would just stomp us if they wanted to. Of course this may not be all doom and gloom; imagine if the aliens had a sense of humor. What if the virus made all the cd trays dance to the beat of Mambo #5.

An Alien Will Smith? (-1, Redundant)

autophile (640621) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128532)

I guess if Will Smith can do it, so can the aliens.

--Rob

Re:An Alien Will Smith? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128613)

It was jeff goldblum, you insensitive clod!

Those aliens must be mighty intelligent... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128533)

... to know how to program for our computers without ever actually haven seen one.

Re:Those aliens must be mighty intelligent... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128635)

they could pull as many as they want out of one of our landfills I'd imagine

Re:Those aliens must be mighty intelligent... (1)

locnar42 (591631) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128688)

Don't you think that with all the visits to our planet that they would have bothered to do something other than anal probing humans all day long. They're probably in violation of the GPL right now in fact. Anybody seen any spaceship guidance modifications released back to the Linux kernel recently?

..and also psychic. (5, Funny)

jferris (908786) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128699)

Assuming attacks on only 32 bit Windows OSes, if an attack would occur today, it could only have originated from within a range of ten light years. An attack from further out would have required that it be launched before Windows 95 was.

There really is no need for remote infiltration of the OS, since high school students have been doing it for years. Why would first (acknowledged) contact be to give a virus to Windows users? It is like pouring salt in the ocean.

You can thank me for this information (5, Funny)

WormholeFiend (674934) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128538)

As official Earth contactee for the benevolent Betelgeuse civilization, I have been told to warn you that the evil Andromedans are using the SETI program to keep a fresh list of potential abductees for nefarious experiments.

They also recently developped antitinfoil penetration technology, so those of you who are using this means of protection are now vulnerable.

These beings will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of your colon!

Consider yourselves warned.

There you are (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128667)

Wormy, you always were a dumbass, but this takes the cake. You could have at least posted as an AC for this, but we would have found out anyway. We just can't tolerate this kind of breach of security protocol.
Consider yourself fired. You know very well what this entails - you have a week to put your affairs in order and say your goodbyes. Dumbass.

WHOA.... (4, Funny)

wangotango (711037) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128540)

I'll read the content of the article after I construct a tin foil hat for my laptop.

Threshold (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128541)

OMG It's Threshold http://www.cbs.com/primetime/threshold/ [cbs.com]

Re:Threshold (2, Funny)

S.O.B. (136083) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128603)

Maybe that's why Threshold has been cancelled [scifi.com] , so as not to alarm the public. Maybe its already happened...

Alien Virus (1)

poena.dare (306891) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128543)

Aliens have already infected Earth with a virus: it's called mankind.

Re:Alien Virus (1)

udoschuermann (158146) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128614)

Aliens have already infected Earth with a virus: it's called mankind.

No, it's called Microsoft.
Come one, nobody else thought to blame Microsoft? Must be Monday...

Bigger problems. (2, Funny)

Peldor (639336) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128547)

Wouldn't the Vogon Constructor Fleet be a bigger problem than a few radio waves?

Has anyone been 'round to the local galactic administrative office lately? Anyone?

Re:Bigger problems. (1)

Voltageaav (798022) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128574)

Yeah, I stoped by last week, but then I realised I'd left my towel at home.

We're dealing with aliens here, (1)

Voltageaav (798022) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128555)

They could travel into the computer themselves and take it over if they wanted.

A classic example ... (5, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128556)

... of someone who's very knowledgeable in one technical field (in this case, particle physics) assuming that this knowledge carries over into another, almost unrelated technical field (in this case, computer science.) I'm sure that Dr. Carrigan is a very, very smart guy, but odds are he uses his computer as a tool without a whole lot more understanding of its inner workings than that possessed by the typical business user.

Does this give new meaning to the phrase.... (5, Funny)

isa-kuruption (317695) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128559)

Does this give new meaning to the phrase: HACK THE PLANET ???

Worried? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128560)

Frankly, I'm more worried about some cd containing a friggin' rootkit....

Lol. (1)

JustNiz (692889) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128564)

This is about as likely as that guy hacking the mothership main computer in the movie "Independence Day".

Gee isn't it lucky that a totally alien civilisation also happened to independently invent a Von-Neumann architecture running an 80x86 instruction set also with buffer-overflow vulnerabilities.

I wonder if they run Windows XP?

Re:Lol. (1)

ClippyHater (638515) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128677)

I wonder if they run Windows XP?

No, their civilization, having the benefit of being at least a few decades of technological advances ahead of us, are now using Vista RC 1.

Re:Lol. (1)

Shawn is an Asshole (845769) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128680)

Actaully Jeff Goldblum's character was using a Mac, so that wouldn't be x86. Probably be PPC...

Re:Lol. (1)

frostfreek (647009) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128694)

As an aside, I've never figured out why the laughing skull virus had a soundtrack. If the bugs could not hear (as established earlier in the movie), then why would they put a soundcard into their computer!?

Intergalactical terrorism ... (1)

jepoirrier (744269) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128568)

Hmmm ... Someone is fearing that dangerous, evil, Bin Laden-linked terrorists are out there in space and can use SETI@Home to attack planet earth. Well, I'll shut down my mobile, my wi-fi antenna, my AM radio and I will also stop hearing at what other "poeple" say ... just in case E.T. is using sound waves to invade my brain.

Authority (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128571)

Lest we forget, being an authority in one field (nuclear physics in this case) does not automatically make you an authority in other fields (like computer science). Carrigan's concerns should be taken with a large grain of salt.

April 1st already? (1)

Bazman (4849) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128572)

I'm sure this guy can't be serious. Its probably just a funny joke started over coffee on a slack day at Fermilab, and they thought it was so hilarious they couldn't wait until April 1 to release it. Can anyone at Fermilab hear giggling?

Its equivalent to rooting a system by holding a particular pattern in front of a web cam, causing a buffer overflow in the Jpeg compression....

Baz

Re:April 1st already? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128629)

actually i'm holding onto that one for 28 days after notification of the vendors (apple isight, Axis webcam, intel create and share and PS2 Eye-chat ) until full disclosure.

Sounds like a job for OpenBSD. (4, Funny)

ettlz (639203) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128575)

That'll help prevent interstellar buffer overruns 'sploits!

Either that or we'll send them Theo de Raadt.

Re:Sounds like a job for OpenBSD. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128748)

Funny how that sounds like a Mafiosi-type name. We'll also send "Franky Four Fingers" and Boris de Bullet Dodger...

Oh and what eventually happens on that distant alien galaxy? Maybe not "Commander, you should look at this!" but instead a "Hey Martha. c'mere look at this. It seems to come from a Class M planet. Wait, THIS signal is apologizing for using Windows XP, whatever the hell that means..."

Not necessarily from space. (3, Informative)

Vo0k (760020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128576)

The "malicious signal" may be of earth origin, just send it to the antennas on the right frequency and make it similar enough in shape to the space noise and it will get processed just the same. Or hijack a DNS and post new "work units" with malicious content acting as SETI.
Thing is you don't need to separate the data, you just need to make the processing software secure, in such a way that data is analysed and never executed, there's no chance of buffer overflow or other potential risks coming from the data. Simple as that.

"The chance of infection is not zero"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128577)

"the probability of a contaminated SETI signal is difficult to estimate; but if we never consider it the chance of infection is not zero"

No shit Sherlock. So, in your mind, that's sufficient to call for security controls? The fact that something can happen on a non-zero probability? Worst, the threat scenario you imagined is a *computer virus*? Tell me, did you rent Independence Day during the Thanksgiving weekend? That's the worse excuse for paranoia I've ever seen, and I'm reading slashdot daily. There are millions of potential security threats out there with a non-zero chance of happening, and thanks God we ignore the vast majority of them.

Shouldn't be a problem (1)

westyx (95706) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128579)

Most of the machines running seti are windows and linux machines, which are safe - everyone knows only Apple laptops are AlienOS Compatible. So what if the apple users start acting weirdly - it's not like anyone is going to notice the difference.

Let's hook SETI up.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128581)

..to our ICBM-installations. This would provide extra security in case an Alien tries to infect our computers with a virus: we just nuke them !

On second thought... maybe that Carrigan is in fact an alien posing as human that is against aliens infecting human PC's through the alien ether, and maybe he is, like all aliens, after only one thing: World Domination (tm)!
Oh no, what have we done!

An Open Letter (5, Funny)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128585)

Dear Richard Carrigan,

You keep doing particle Physics, and we'll keep doing Computer Science.

Love,
The Computer Scientists

Another type of risk from SETI (3, Interesting)

Snamh Da Ean (916391) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128586)

A slightly different concern I have heard expressed in relation to efforts to contact ET relate to the possibility that some unfriendly species will see our signal, take a look at our planet, and decide to enslave us. I know that respected professors at the University of Reading's Cybernetics department, whose names escape me, have expressed such concerns.

Since SETI and other similar programmes are based on the not unreasonable belief that other technologically advanced civilizations exist on distant planets, is it sensible to contact them and alert them to the presence of our resource rich planet? Extremely remote risk, but is there any reason to think that aliens are friendly? If earth discovered life on another planet, and this planet also happened to possess some material which greatly enriched the lives of humans on earth, how would we react?

IANASFB (I am not a science fiction buff) but I presume this type of scenario has been discussed.

Re:Another type of risk from SETI (2, Insightful)

khendron (225184) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128704)

I suspect that since our species has been blasting out so much noise (radio, TV broadcast, radar) in the past 50 years or so that our presence can hardly be overlooked. That is, if anybody is looking.

Re:Another type of risk from SETI (1)

Starker_Kull (896770) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128715)

Of course, we already HAVE been alerting them from Marconi onwards, as every episode of "I Love Lucy", "Star Trek", "Baywatch" and various reality TV programs has been streaming outwards at the speed of light, not to mention all the porn, Howard Stern, government communications, etc., etc., etc....

Cat's already out of the bag.

Of course, they may see all of that, and decide it's best to stay away or just send a small, asteroid sized rock in our direction to shut off the noise....

Re:Another type of risk from SETI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128724)

A slightly different concern I have heard expressed in relation to efforts to contact ET relate to the possibility that some unfriendly species will see our signal, take a look at our planet, and decide to enslave us.

Don't worry, (God | Allah | Bhudda) will save us! /sarcasm

well yeah if ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128592)

the alien civilisation has developed the technology,
to piggy back-modulate magnetic waves into electromagnetic
ones ... hey mister maxwell why don'tse my magneztses glow?

I'm not worried... (1)

slowhand (191637) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128602)

I chose to opt-out and receive no annoying spam email from any extra-terrestrial sources. I just gave them my name, SSN, all email addresses, and home phone and cell phone numbers to not call. Then I opted out of any credit card theft stuff by giving them all my Visa, MC, and Amex numbers to identify accounts not to use. I provided Mom's maiden name for verification. I wear my tin-foil hat during solar flare storms.

And I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night

Already done. (1)

Starker_Kull (896770) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128606)

Where do you think Windows came from?

[ducks]

actual risk - but not from aliens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128609)

So sure, there's a risk like there is with any system. But far more likely, the risk would be from people writing malicious code and sending it down to the open dish from a plane or mountain or whatever.

But then again, that's no bigger risk than the system would experience just by being hooked up to the internet.

Seach for ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128617)

Exploitable Transactions on the Internet?

How do you know you are not being used to crack someone's encrypted files?

Movie-plot threat (5, Insightful)

Proaxiom (544639) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128619)

A perfect example of what Schneier calls movie-plot security [schneier.com] .

It's pretty sad that they're actually wasting brain cycles thinking about threats like this. No, the risk of infection isn't zero. But it's damn close to zero. It isn't zero if you 'secure' SETI systems, either. It isn't even zero if you dismantle the SETI telescopes.

But money spent on this is money better spent elsewhere, practically no matter where else you spend it. This should have been in the 'It's Funny, Laugh' topic.

(Prediction: this will appear on Schneier's blog by end of day tomorrow)

Science Fiction. (1)

wschalle (790478) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128620)

This what happens when smart people read books like Dan Brown's Digital Fortress.

Can they just come out and say it!?!? (1)

Durrill (908003) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128634)

If the government is concerned about alien signals hacking our precious communications infrastructure... then could they please just release all information they have concerning extra terrestrials. Man, how can the government convince the public that isolating SETI from alien influences is necessary, if they don't come out and admit / prove that aliens exist. We know they're out there, but our society as a whole doesn't. Honestly.. we are all fundamentally stupid creatures.

It must be true. (1)

Vengeance (46019) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128639)

After all, that's how we beat the aliens back on Independence Day a few years back, right?

If hollywood taught us anything... (1)

callipygian-showsyst (631222) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128642)

...it's that Alien computers are susceptible to MACINTOSH viruses! (See "Independence Day", for example.) For once, Windows uses are immune to an attack!

The real reason (no tinfoil)! (1)

dada21 (163177) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128649)

The real reason behind research requests for adding processes (and red tape) is budgetary. This guy wants to see more money spent!

Don't be surprised by it. Government has terrorists to help increase their budget (war is the health of the State). Scientists have the bird flu, HIV and little green men.

Nut job central (2, Insightful)

squoozer (730327) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128654)

Has /. become a focal point for all the worlds nut jobs today or something? What with this and the guy asking to move porn onto another port all we need now is one of the monty python crew to do us a silly walk. How do these people get to take control of my pixels?

What's most scary though is that there is a small percentage of people who will believe him. I think those people scare me more now I come to think about it. At least this guy is just trying for his 15 minutes of fame.

Ray (1)

certel (849946) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128662)

I fear the alien death ray!

His worst fear has probably already happened (5, Insightful)

Aging_Newbie (16932) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128663)

SETI data is pretty much indistinguishable from random numbers. In fact, the extremely rare patterned sequences of data are the holy grail of the pursuit.

So .... most likely lots of virus code has already been processed because random noise will eventually produce every virus, just like monkeys and keyboards will produce Shakespeare. One could, I guess, hold the position that by processing random data we are putting ourselves at risk and that rings more true than some civilization producing intentional sequences with malicious intent.

Problem is, there's always a risk (1)

vibes_wibble (903050) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128665)

Even if the risk is so small as to be vanishing, the problem with this sort of rubbish (similarly to a lot of IT security consultant twaddle), is there's still a risk. Put another way, is there no risk at all that something from SETI could cause a problem on a PC...? Answer is, yes, there's a very small risk, but it is still a risk. For the PHB types (or journalists) who don't understand how to quantify risk, this can be something to panic about. I bet that more than one IT support person has been asked by his/her Guardian reading boss how SETI can be banned from the site because of this "issue". Anthony.

Right... (1)

jav1231 (539129) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128671)

Okay, in order for infectious code to even contaminate our systems we're begging the question that aliens know the language our systems are communicating in. The odds that aliens are within earshot is one thing to overcome. Add to that: the odds that they're intelligent, odds that they have technology to code with, odds that they have been watching us long enough to reverse engineer our code in order to contaminate our systems, the odds that our systems would interpret this code. But hey, it got him some press, which is probably what a lot of this is about.

Oh but of course! (2, Insightful)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128672)

The concern is raised in the next issue of the journal Acta Astronautica by Richard Carrigan, a particle physicist at the US Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.

And he is after all, one of the most reputable names in the computing field today.

Computer scientists argue that to hack a computer, or write a virus that will infect it, requires a knowledge of how the computer and the software it is running work: a computer on Earth is going to be as alien to the aliens as they would be to us. But Dr Carrigan says there is still a risk.

There most certainly is a risk: a risk that someone in the government might actually take a particle physicist's word that aliens are trying to hack the Internet (which, given the speed of light, most enlightened civilizations in the galaxy won't find out about for about 200 years, assuming they are listening in the first place).

On the one hand, I don't know why this is a story. This guy is out of his element, and no one should be taking him too seriously (Independence Day [imdb.com] buffs notwithstanding). On the other hand, the chance that people in positions of power with less than two neurons to rub together might take this guy seriously, thereby jeopardizing peaceful scientific research (see Contact [imdb.com] ) has me just a bit concerned.

A far greater risk... (5, Insightful)

stox (131684) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128678)

is sending signals out. Although we may think we are saying hello, the receiver may be thinking, "Hmmm, I do need more meat in my diet."

Our tech is too primitive... (1)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128683)

...to take over with such a signal.

While I believe such a scenario is entirely possible, I think that our Pentium 4's and Sparc's are just not capable of enabling such a feat. The code to do so would either take several megabytes or be so strongly compressed that our machines simply would no be able to unpack it in under a decade.

It would sort of be like the NSA travelling back in time and trying to remotely root the Union Pacific's telegraph machines.

Did someone watch... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14128685)

Did someone watch Independence Day over Thanksgiving weekend? Physics guys are smart and stuff so I could see him reversing the situation and .......

Come to think of it how many alien movies end up with positive outcomes for the aliens? We broadcast this stuff all day, every day with repeats ad nauseum. Damn, now I'm worried too :)

language barrier and failed tries (1)

Fanro (130986) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128702)

that seems to be as likely as if someone who does not speak your language could give you a speech that changes your beliefs

furthermore, if some cilivlisations are really capapble of such a feat, for each successfull virus there should be millions of tries that fail partially because of some odd incompatibility.

So, where are all the signals from outer space that *almost* managed to take over seti? Some should at least have crashed it.

Sounds like bad Sci-Fi... (2, Insightful)

nweaver (113078) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128714)

Sounds like such bad Sci-Fi that he could become a writer for Threshold.

I'm More Worried About Alien Pr0n (1)

Prototerm (762512) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128740)

...But maybe that's just me.

Reminds me of that movie "Virus" (1)

Anonymous MadCoe (613739) | more than 8 years ago | (#14128741)

A supervirus from outerspace.... Wow this guy probably saw this http://www.virusthemovie.com/ [virusthemovie.com] movie...
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