Friday, March 14, 2008


I have just learned that some electronic devices are arriving from manufacturers already equipped with viruses. This isn't deliberate, usually; a worker plugs an infected music player into a computer used for factory testing, for example, and infects the computer, which in turn infects the iPod tested on it. Then, when you plug the iPod -- or digital picture frame or flash drive -- into your computer, it in turn gets the virus.

This can easily drive a PC or iBook user nuts. But suppose it spreads to more serious digitals? A team of security experts recently hacked into a combination pacemaker-defibrillator, the NEW YORK TIMES reported, to see if the medical equipment was vulnerable. It was. It took, granted, $30,000 worth of specialized equipment -- but it could be done.

In BEGGARS IN SPAIN, I have a character caution another to prepare his legal statements only on a free-standing computer, unconnected to any other device. Maybe that was more prescient than I knew. Infecting my email is one thing. But a defibrillator?

An armored vehicle?

A 747?


Elver said...

The free-standing computer would also have to be in a Faraday cage. Otherwise it would be susceptible to "Van Eck phreaking" -- eavesdropping on a computer by listening to its electromagnetic emissions.

Neal Stephenson's excellent book "Cryptonomicon" discusses this a bit.

Steven Francis Murphy said...

The most secure way of protecting your data is a free standing computer. Frankly, I do not understand the U.S. Army's current march toward a netcentric force, especially as more UAVs and UCAVs are fielded. Someone is going to hack that stuff sooner or later.

That said, I don't know that the crystal ball effect is in play with the reference to Beggars in Spain and computers. The idea of having secured, stand alone systems is a fairly basic COMSEC concept.

It is worth pointing out that this is a central plot point of the new Battlestar Galactica. The Galactica in the new series survives the Cylon attack due to the fact that the vessel's commander never allowed his ship's computers to be networked. Meanwhile, the rest of the Colonial Fleet had gone back to networking. Thus, the enemy was able to take advantage of the weakness.

S. F. Murphy
Northtown, Missouri

Nancy Kress said...

I wasn't claiming to be the first to use free-standing computers as a safety precaution -- I'm NEVER the first on any technological idea. I'm just amazed that it occurred to me at all without knowing as much in 1992, when I wrote the story, as I do now about the perils of networking anything. I'm not completely sure I should trust my toaster.

Steven Francis Murphy said...

I know. I wasn't slamming you, Nancy. I was just pointing out that it is fairly standard to have stand alone systems.

S. F. Murphy

Wealthedge said...


What do you know that I don't? My toaster was eyeballing me yesterday, but I just took it as jealously over the primo counter space I gave to the blender. But today I found electrical plug marks in the butter. Should I be worried?

I think the stove is behind it all.



bluesman miike Lindner said...

Dale, I find toasters, stoves, and the rest just want attention. Pat them when you use them, say, "What a =good= baby! Yes, you are!," and all will be well.

But I found this worrisome. Last night, I shambled in from the lagerhouse and had a craving for one of my special oatmeal-and-liver frozen treats. I opened the freezer, smacking me lips, and found only 2 when I =know= there were 3. And 1 of the 2 was half-eaten. Gnawed, you might say.

Have you had a similar experience? What on Earth is happening here?

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Nancy, anything Humanity invents, Humanity can corrupt. The laws of the Universe work just as well for the Bad Guys as the Good Guys.

But I like to think the Good Guys are always a step ahead. Why? Because...they're the Good Guys!

As Grandpa told me when I was tiny, "Son, you can hustle yourself into Heaven sooner than God wants, worrying about things you can't control and can't change."

And =nobody= ever called Grandpa a liar! Well, one fool did. I believe his broken arms eventually mended, but he never did get his memory back.