Computer phages

The similarities between the computer viruses and “real” biological viruses are getting more profound all the time. There’s already a good case to be made for the fact that the Internet is a true ecological space, a virtual hothouse inhabited by rapidly mutating organisms. Just this week CNET reported on a worm that sleeps to avoid detection. That is, it has a virulent phase when it causes mischief and a quiescent phase when it lays low to avoid being seen.

This struck me as remarkably similar to the behavior of the much studied lambda phage, a virus that infests hapless E. coli bacteria. Under certain conditions (look here for a full explanation) the wily phage goes into hiding in the bacterium’s DNA, where it waits for a trigger to make it nasty again. So we have the same pattern of virulence and quiescence. Are virus authors actively copying Mother Nature? I doubt it. But a sound evolutionary idea is a sound evolutionary idea. What else can we conclude from reviewing several billion years worth of biology? This: viruses are not likely to go away anytime soon.

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