In 2010 the W32.Stuxnet computer virus was reported spreading beyond the Natanz nuclear facilities in Iran. A sophisticated virus allegedly developed as a joint operation between US and Israeli intelligence agencies.
That same year, scientists released a study predicting the number of H1N1 infections, otherwise known as Swine Flu, that could occur via air travel.
Viruses of both varieties are certainly potent enough to make international headlines. But apart from the name, are there any real similarities between the two? We wanted to know whether the digital variety in any way deserves to share a name with its biological counterpart. An organism that has outfoxed our brightest scientists, remains mankind’s biggest threat and has proven to be an engineering marvel on so many levels.
- Both human and computer viruses require a host in order to exist and multiply.
- They are both stealthy and rely on avoiding identification in order to propagate.
- In addition to the infection, the invader will also trigger activity to help it multiply.
- They both flourish in the face of a vulnerability.
- They both lay dormant until triggered.
Scientists tell us that a biological virus’s only weapon is a piece of genetic code that is injected into a cell. Identical to the arsenal of its digital counterpart.
Vaccines work by providing the body with identifying traits of the potential invader. If contact is made with the real pathogen the body already has information about what the invaders look like and how best to fight them. An eerie similarity with anti-virus software that is only effective by providing the right know how to identify and fight infections.
A single biological virus can produce millions of replica progeny viruses. This gives rise to remarkably favourable odds for beneficial genetic mutations. A key strategy for the organism’s long term stealthy survival.
A computer virus also needs to avoid detection in order to be effective. Once a single instance is identified the entire population is compromised. But its long term changes are far from random mutations, they require a lot of work by its human designers.
This is by far the most distinctive difference between the two systems. It a telling fact about human nature. It makes you wonder which will be easier to eliminate, the biological kind that mutate or the ones that people create?
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