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Can a virus be design or art?

An exhibition in Rotterdam explores the design of viruses - until November

Computer viruses are threats – everybody would agree. But at the same time they can be artful pieces of code. Objects of design. Unique creations. You can find security researchers talking about the beauty of code – and you can now also see this in an exhibition in Rotterdam.

"This idea of an exhibition on viruses came because it is a long term interest of the New Institute to look at forms of design that are not necessarily based on authors or objects but that are more invisible to us", says Marina Otero Verzier, the Director of Research at Het Nieuwe Instituut (The New Institute) Rotterdam. And so they started looking at computer programs with massive impact, but little knowledge about the authors: the clandestine, malicious software used by script kiddies and state sponsored hackers.

The exhibition spans widely, looking at classics from the early years, when kids created viruses to prove it was possible, but without intending to create a lot of harm. Otero Verzier's favorite malware is from that time. The Skynet/Terminator-virus in a charming way told you to relax and take some time off. It was also the time, when the creator of a malware like the "Anna Kournikova" virus could still be hired by his local administration as an IT specialist because of the work he did with that malware.

The exhibition goes into modern days, looking at highly sophisticated programs like the WannaCry malware which shut down businesses around the world in 2017.

You can find these examples in the exhibition:

  • Brain, 1986
  • AIDS, 1990
  • CRASH, 1990
  • Coffeeshop, 1992
  • HHnHH, 1992
  • Skynet, 1994
  • LSD, 1994
  • Mars Land, 1997
  • Happy99, 1999
  • Melissa, 1999
  • ILOVEYOU, 2000
  • Anna Kournikova, 2001
  • CodeRed, 2001
  • Stuxnet, 2009
  • Kenzero, 2010
  • Regin, 2011
  • Flame, 2012
  • Shamoon, 2012
  • CryptoLocker, 2013
  • PolloCrypt, 2015
  • WannaCry, 2017
  • NotPetya, 2017

All these malicious programs were visualized in artistic installations and are being explained to the visitors. The exhibition is still open until 10th of November and you can find out more here: https://malware.hetnieuweinstituut.nl/en

Learn more about any kind of malware at www.securelist.com

To learn more about WannaCry and the fragile border between hacking and cybersecurity research, follow us for our upcoming mini series: hacker:HUNTER, WannaCry: The Marcus Hutchins Story.