Scientists say space aliens could hack our planet

Scientists say space aliens could hack our planet
Credit: SETI Institute

With all the news stories these days about computer hacking, it probably comes as no surprise that someone is worried about hackers from outer space. Yes, there are now scientists who fret that space aliens might send messages that worm their way into human society—not to steal our passwords but to bring down our culture.

How exactly would they do that? Astrophysicists Michael Hippke and John Learned argue in a recent paper that our telescopes might pick up hazardous messages sent our way—a virus that shuts down our computers, for example, or something a bit like cosmic blackmail: "Do this for us, or we'll make your sun go supernova and destroy Earth." Or perhaps the cosmic hackers could trick us into building self-replicating nanobots, and then arrange for them to be let loose to chew up our planet or its inhabitants.

Mind you, making a small star like the sun go supernova would be a mind-boggling trick—one that would impress astrophysicists (if any were left). As for the nanobots, I figure the aliens need only wait a century or two, and we'll make the little devils ourselves, without any help.

Like threatening Neanderthals

It's indisputable that space aliens, if they do exist, might not be friendly. But it's hard to think of things that we could do for agile, technically sophisticated aliens that they couldn't accomplish more easily on their own. Imagine modern humans threatening Neanderthals with nuclear war unless they washed our cars. Would that make any sense?

The astrophysicists also suggest that the extraterrestrials could show their displeasure (what did we do?) by launching a cyberattack. Maybe you've seen the 1996 film "Independence Day," in which odious aliens are vanquished by a computer virus uploaded into their machinery. That's about as realistic as sabotaging your neighbor's new laptop by feeding it programs written for the Commodore 64.

In other words, aliens that could muster the transmitter power (not to mention the budget) to try wiping us out with code are going to have a real compatibility problem. The Stuxnet virus that took out Iran's enrichment centrifuges was designed to target a contemporary bit of software: the Windows operating system.

If these nasty aliens are more than 40 light-years away, they won't know that we have personal computers, let alone which operating system they should target. If they're more than 80 light-years away, they won't know that we have computers of any kind.

Maybe they'll try to disable our abacuses.

A dangerous gift

It's worth remarking that today's SETI experiments—in which large antennas are used to search for signals from alien societies—are largely impervious to any of this chicanery. SETI receivers integrate incoming signals (which is to say, they average them) over seconds or minutes. That would turn any message into digital goo, and no pernicious content would remain. Yes, that's a technical point, but I think it's highly unlikely we'll ever have computers susceptible to Klingon code.

Yet there is a way that messages from space might be disruptive. Extraterrestrials could simply give us some advanced knowledge—not as a trade, but as a gift. How could that possibly be a downer? Imagine: You're a physicist who has dedicated your career to understanding the fundamental structure of matter. You have a stack of reprints, a decent position, and a modicum of admiration from the three other specialists who have read your papers. Suddenly, aliens weigh in with knowledge that's a thousand years ahead of yours. So much for your job and your sense of purpose.

If humanity is deprived of the opportunity to learn things on its own, much of its impetus for novelty might evaporate. In a society where invention and discovery are written out of the script, progress and improvement would suffer.

Then again, aliens would likely have real trouble transmitting knowledge to us. In movies, extraterrestrials often communicate with us in colloquial English. But a real message from space is likely to be no more understandable than a digital TV signal would be to Guglielmo Marconi. An transmission is unlikely to be a Trojan horse—but it would at least tell us that there's someone outside the gates.


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Relax, it'll be 1,500 years before aliens contact us

More information: arxiv.org/abs/1802.02180
Provided by SETI Institute
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Feb 27, 2018
If Putin can do it, anybody can.

Feb 27, 2018
Okay! Now these guys are fornicating unlawful carnal knowledge to blow our minds!

These scientific jesters must have been sampling the magic mushrooms of that other article.

Feb 28, 2018
Aliens got control of the ship's main computer on more than one occasion in the various Star Trek series, perhaps that is where these ideas are coming from. :-)

Mr. Shostak mentioned malicious Klingon code. In Star Trek: Enterprise (Season 4, Episode 15, Affliction) genetically-enhanced Klingons boarded Enterprise and essentially planted a virus in the main computer, nearly destroying the ship. It was purged by a shutdown and reboot from ROM-stored software that was uninfected. If you really like Star Trek, you will notice the nacelles glow exceptionally bright because Enterprise is forced to its maximum speed for the entire series to prevent the Klingon virus from blowing up the ship. Great story.

Feb 28, 2018
not to steal our passwords but to bring down our culture

...and they would want to do this exactly...why?

If they are so far ahead that they can manipulate us this way we pose no threat whatsoever to them. It'd be like humans trying to mess with meerkat societies because we're so scared that they will take over the world.

"Do this for us, or we'll make your sun go supernova and destroy Earth."

Yes...because if you can make a sun go supernova you need humans to do...erm..stuff?
Also:
"If you do not send this on to 5 other civilizations harm will come to you. The Globukeenlans didn't. Ever heard of them? No? There you go".

The astrophysicists also suggest that the extraterrestrials could show their displeasure (what did we do?) by launching a cyberattack.

Ya know - if I want to attack earth I'd do it with a lethal virus. Certainly not with a cyberattack that would...erm...end five minutes later when we pull the plug and reboot.

Feb 28, 2018
ou have a stack of reprints, a decent position, and a modicum of admiration from the three other specialists who have read your papers. Suddenly, aliens weigh in with knowledge that's a thousand years ahead of yours. So much for your job and your sense of purpose.

Whoever wrote this knows nothing about how scientists tick.
Nothing.

Scientists rejoice when someone else comes in with new knowledge. It's cool if it's you, but if it's someone else - so what? It's the knowledge that matters. And don't think for a second scientists can't think of new stuff to research if someone happens to beat them to a discovery.

Also: Job security is the least of a scientist's worries if aliens start dumping knowledge on us. Someone will have to dig through all this and try to understand it. Who do you think will do that job? Yup. Scientists.

Feb 28, 2018
As the music critic once said "I was at the Symphony listening to beautiful music. When suddenly, Opera broke out!"

Truly, Klingon Opera is a fearsome weapon for conquest.

Feb 28, 2018
Well consider that if they could hack our computers they could probably hack our brains.. and they could have been doing this for 1000s of years.

This would explain A LOT including how McCartney could write such great stuff while he was with the Beatles and then lose it entirely with Wings.

Plug pulled.

Feb 28, 2018
''not to steal our passwords but to bring down our culture.'' they are trying to explain neo-marxists.

Feb 28, 2018
Maybe they are coming for our guns!

Mar 06, 2018
: If they're more than 80 light-years away, they won't know that we have computers of any kind.

Ridiculous. They wouldn't know that Earthlings had evolved from the 1920's to computers, given the expansion of culture and technology that had been happening the previous 150 years??

Mar 06, 2018
TTB, is it really apparent how technology has evolved since the 1920's? Or how fast? I am reluctant to believe that there have not been choices.

Random chance and accidental discoveries and just bull-headed stubbornness all to often propel development.

And, I am certainly not claiming that we have always made the correct choices.

We should also consider how much our chronic state of war has directed or even dictated developing technologies.

We can only speculate with fiction, how different our world would be if different paths had been trod.

I just cannot imagine why any intelligent alien society would waste their resources on anything more than keeping a wary eye on the Planet of the Crazy Apes.

Otherwise, we would be anthropomorphizing their behavior and motivations.

Just because we slavishly worship the Pizarro Brothers. Does not mean other sentients &/or sapiens have to be as morally depraved as humans.

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