Tag Archives: virus

NEW FICTION: TUPAC SHAKUR AND THE END OF THE WORLD by Sandra McDonald

Seems like we’re all a little culturally obsessed with impending apocalypse at the moment; a minor flurry of end-of-the-world tales a few years back has grown into an everyman’s meme, with the cinemas full of zombie hordes, desolate wastelands and rugged survivors. That ubiquity has been a bit off-putting, to be honest… I love me a good post-apocalyptic story, but I’ve become a bit bored of them, and didn’t think we’d be publishing one here at Futurismic any time soon.

But Sandra McDonald has managed to prove me wrong, by subverting the cliches and turning the end of the world on its head with some darkly post-modern humour; “Tupac Shakur and the End of the World” is a post-apocalypse yarn for people who are bored of post-apocalypse yarns. Enjoy!

Tupac Shakur and the End of the World

by Sandra McDonald

The worst part – well, one of the worst parts, disregarding the collapse of modern civilization – is that it was my own stupid choice to leave Florida in the first place, and here I am spending my last days trying to get back there. I don’t have the Creep yet but let’s not pretend I’m special or mysteriously immune. I’m not the plucky heroine of a summer blockbuster who will find true love (shaggy-haired Brendan Fraser would be nice, or Daniel Craig with his icy blue eyes) and then become matriarch of a community of ragtag survivors. I’m just me – Susan Donoghue, thirty-one, former textbook writer, currently hiking down I-95 in North Carolina armed with a .45 handgun, pepper spray, and a hunting knife. I won’t let anyone touch me.

Let’s not pretend, either, that I’m on anything but a fool’s errand. My sister Marie, her husband Mike, and my baby niece Monica are probably already dead. The best I’ll be able to do is bury them. Take their hardened, Creepified bodies and put them in the dirt, then drop down beside them. Continue reading NEW FICTION: TUPAC SHAKUR AND THE END OF THE WORLD by Sandra McDonald

Want to stave off swine flu? Catch a cold

sneezeOK, before anyone says it, the headline is not to be taken as medical advice (I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on television, etc, etc). But research into surprisingly low incidences of swine flu in France in recent months suggests that the common cold may be suppressing the ability of the H1N1 virus to get a toe-hold in our immune systems. [image by trumanlo]

… the percentage of throat swabs from French respiratory illnesses that tested positive for swine flu fell in September, while at the same time rhinovirus, which causes colds, rose […] in late October, rhinovirus fell – at the same time as flu rose. He suspects rhinovirus may have blocked the spread of swine flu via a process called viral interference.

This is thought to occur when one virus blocks another. “We think that when you get one infection, it turns on your antiviral defences, and excludes the other viruses,” says Ab Osterhaus at the University of Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

How important such interference is in viral epidemics is unclear, however: there are also cases in which there is no interference, and people catch two viruses at the same time. Normally, we don’t get a chance to see how rhinovirus affects flu, as flu epidemics usually strike in winter, whereas rhinovirus hits when schools start (late summer in the northern hemisphere).

In other words, the effect isn’t fully understood, or even well enough understood to provide some sort of solution. But it might provide a starting point…

So why hasn’t the US, for example, seen a dip in pandemic cases during a back-to-school rhinovirus outbreak? Mackay speculates that interference from rhinovirus may not be enough to fend off flu if someone is exposed repeatedly. There were far more cases of swine flu in the US in September than in Europe.

The effects of rhinovirus, often dismissed as “only” a cold, are too poorly understood, say all the researchers. Its seeming ability to block swine flu may already have saved lives in France by buying the nation time before the vaccine arrived. It may even lead to a drug that induces the antiviral state, but without the sniffles.

Fight fire with fire, as the old saying goes.

Biomimicry in computer security: ants vs. worms

ant headWe have a tendency to name software entities after biological creatures whose behaviours they remind us of – think of viruses in general, or worms. Now a bunch of computer security geeks are coming from the other direction, taking inspiration from nature’s creatures for the next weapon in the never-ending war against malware and viruses… few species are more effective at responding to intrusions into their system than the ant, after all. [via SlashDot; image by CharlesLam]

Unlike traditional security devices, which are static, these “digital ants” wander through computer networks looking for threats, such as “computer worms” – self-replicating programs designed to steal information or facilitate unauthorized use of machines. When a digital ant detects a threat, it doesn’t take long for an army of ants to converge at that location, drawing the attention of human operators who step in to investigate.

The concept, called “swarm intelligence,” promises to transform cyber security because it adapts readily to changing threats.

“In nature, we know that ants defend against threats very successfully,” explains Wake Forest Professor of Computer Science Errin Fulp, an expert in security and computer networks. “They can ramp up their defense rapidly, and then resume routine behavior quickly after an intruder has been stopped. We were trying to achieve that same framework in a computer system.”

[…]

“Our idea is to deploy 3,000 different types of digital ants, each looking for evidence of a threat,” Fulp says. “As they move about the network, they leave digital trails modeled after the scent trails ants in nature use to guide other ants. Each time a digital ant identifies some evidence, it is programmed to leave behind a stronger scent. Stronger scent trails attract more ants, producing the swarm that marks a potential computer infection.”

Let’s just hope it takes the black-hat kids a long time to code up a software aardvark, eh?

Swine flu compared to computer viruses

influenza virusHere’s an interesting link, coming to us via the one and only Bruce Schneier. Haker/maker type person Bunnie draws a fascinating analogy between influenza viruses (like our topical and quite possibly overhyped amigo, swine flu) and the computer viruses with which he is more familiar. The result? A computer geek’s guide to molecular biology…

For those not familiar with molecular biology, DNA is information-equivalent to RNA on a 1 to 1 mapping; DNA is like a program stored on disk, and RNA is like a program loaded into RAM. Upon loading DNA, a transcription occurs where “T” bases are replaced with “U” bases. Remember, each base pair specifies one of four possible symbols (A [T/U] G C), so a single base pair corresponds to 2 bits of information.

[…]

If you thought of organisms as computers with IP addresses, each functional group of cells in the organism would be listening to the environment through its own active port. So, as port 25 maps specifically to SMTP services on a computer, port H1 maps specifically to the windpipe region on a human. Interestingly, the same port H1 maps to the intestinal tract on a bird. Thus, the same H1N1 virus will attack the respiratory system of a human, and the gut of a bird. In contrast, H5 — the variety found in H5N1, or the deadly “avian flu” — specifies the port for your inner lungs. As a result, H5N1 is much more deadly because it attacks your inner lung tissue, causing severe pneumonia. H1N1 is not as deadly because it is attacking a much more benign port that just causes you to blow your nose a lot and cough up loogies, instead of ceasing to breathe.

Researchers are still discovering more about the H5 port; the Nature article indicates that perhaps certain human mutants have lungs that do not listen on the H5 port. So, those of us with the mutation that causes lungs to ignore the H5 port would have a better chance of surviving an Avian flu infection, whereas as those of us that open port H5 on the lungs have no chance to survive make your time / all your base pairs are belong to H5N1.

So how many bits are in this instance of H1N1? The raw number of bits, by my count, is 26,022; the actual number of coding bits approximately 25,054 — I say approximately because the virus does the equivalent of self-modifying code to create two proteins out of a single gene in some places (pretty interesting stuff actually), so it’s hard to say what counts as code and what counts as incidental non-executing NOP sleds that are required for self-modifying code.

So it takes about 25 kilobits — 3.2 kbytes — of data to code for a virus that has a non-trivial chance of killing a human. This is more efficient than a computer virus, such as MyDoom, which rings in at around 22 kbytes.

It’s humbling that I could be killed by 3.2kbytes of genetic data. Then again, with 850 Mbytes of data in my genome, there’s bound to be an exploit or two.

[image by kat m research]

First mobile phone botnet spotted in the wild?

mobile phoneEver find yourself wishing your phone could run the same software as your home computer? Well, at least they are now both susceptible to becoming part of a botnet, as the first known centrally-controlled mobile phone virus has been spotted in the wild:

Sexy Space uses text messages reading “A very sexy girl, Try it now!” to jump between phones. The messages contains a link that, when clicked, asks the user to download software which, once installed, sends the same message to contacts stored in the phone.

Similar SMS viruses have been seen before. But Sexy Space is unusual in that it also communicates with a central server and can thus be controlled by the hackers who created it – the feature that gives conventional botnets their power. If the network of infected phones is seen to be responding to remote commands, it can be described as a true botnet.

Brilliant. Given that recent research suggests more than 50% of computer users have clicked on a link in a spam email, we can evidently look forward to our back pockets being the next frontier for badly-spelled importunings from bootleg pharmacies and an inconceivable number of non-existent Nigerian government officials. [image by Bah Humbug]

[The first smug Apple fanboy to post an evangelical comment will incur the wrath of my crack team of Estonian DDOS experts. If the capability to not have to use your common sense to avoid viruses is really worth the hardware premium you pay for the privilege, I suggest basking silently in the glow of your own self-satisfaction.]