An art patron has paid $1.3 million (roughly Rs. 9 crores) for the tech equivalent of a dormant land mine: a 2008 Samsung laptop containing some of the world’s most destructive malware.
“The Persistence of Chaos,” as the work is known, was created by Chinese Internet artist Guo O Dong and commissioned by Deep Instinct, a New York-based cyber-security firm. The company supplied the malware and collaborated with Guo to guard against the kind of real-world damage the project was designed to highlight.
“We have this fantasy that things that happen in computers can’t actually affect us, but this is absurd,” Guo told The Verge. “Weaponized viruses that affect power grids or public infrastructure can cause direct harm.”
The featured viruses have names that could be mistaken for pop songs, but collectively have caused more than $95 billion in economic damage. The “Wanna Cry” ransomware attack of May 2017 was one of the biggest, affecting more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries, and wreaking havoc on the National Health Service in Britain and Renault factories in France. “BlackEnergy” caused blackouts across Ukraine in December 2015. The oldest malware, “I Love You,” was an email attachment masquerading as a love letter in May 2000 that infected tens of millions of PCs on the Windows operating system.
“These pieces of software seem so abstract, almost fake with their funny, spooky names, but I think they emphasize that the web and IRL [in real life] are not different spaces,” Guo told The Verge.
Guo and Deep Instinct said they took steps to ensure the malware isn’t dangerous. The laptop is air-gapped, meaning it’s not directly connected to the Internet and cannot spread the viruses to other networks. Its Internet capabilities will be disabled before it is shipped to the winning bidder.
Malware includes viruses, worms, spyware, ransomware and other malicious code designed to extract personal information or inflict damage. In November, Marriott International disclosed a data breach that exposed the personal information of more than 500,000 customers, making it one of the biggest breaches in history. And earlier this month, a cyber-attack that used a leaked tool from the National Security Agency wreaked havoc on Baltimore.
Guo first made headlines with his art in 2017, with a piece of performance art involving the artist riding a Segway while walking a hipster on a leash through the streets of Brooklyn.