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ET might be a malicious hacker


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Scientists, be on guard ... ET might be a malicious hacker


As if spotty teenagers releasing computer viruses on to the internet from darkened rooms were not enough of a headache. According to a scientific report, planet Earth's computers are wide open to a virus attack from Little Green Men.

The concern is raised in the next issue of the journal Acta Astronautica by Richard Carrigan, a particle physicist at the US Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. He believes scientists searching the heavens for signals from extra-terrestrial civilisations are putting Earth's security at risk, by distributing the jumble of signals they receive to computers all over the world.

The search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (Seti) project, based at the University of California in Berkeley, uses land-based telescopes to scour the universe for electromagnetic waves. Just as stray radio and TV broadcasts are now zooming away from Earth at the speed of light, the Seti scientists hope to pick up stray signals, or even intentional interplanetary broadcasts, emitted from other civilisations.

All signals picked up by Seti are broken up and sent across the internet to a vast band of volunteers who have signed up for a Seti screensaver, which allows their computers to crunch away at the signals, when they are not at their desks.


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H.G. Wells' alien invasion story "The War of the Worlds" was written in 1898. In 1951, American director Robert Wise made a movie that would later become one of the milestones in science fiction: "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

The premise of the film is that other civilizations are watching each other and that if humans keeping warring among themselves, these advanced aliens will come to Earth to destroy us before we become a menace to them.

A few years after this film was released, astronomer Frank Drake led the first research into non-terrestrial life forms, based on the idea that humans could actually "listen" to electromagnetic signals of a non-natural origin by using powerful radio receivers -- the radio telescopes.

SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence is divided into several sub-projects; SETI@Home is one of them.

Launched in 1999, it is based on a very interesting concept called "distributed computing." By exploiting the often unused or underused computing power of a large number of computers connected to the Internet, the ability to analyze the signals detected by radio telescopes increases dramatically.

This approach is definitely more effective than the sole use of a few supercomputers installed near the telescope antennas, because more computing power enables searches to cover a greater range of frequency with more sensitivity. It can cover a wide area of the universe in less time and helps be more precise in the analysis of the signals.

Whoever wants to join the project can do it for free by downloading a simple piece of open source software called BOINC -- Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing -- from the project Web site.


A complete installation guide and lots of tips can be found on the user forum accessible via the official Web site, so that even newbies can sort these problems out.

More than 250,000 users from 229 countries have joined SETI@Home so far, having installed the software on more than 546,000 machines, which attests its great success. As a token of appreciation, users can download and print out a "Certificate of Computation" attesting to their commitment. . .to our collective doom.  j/k

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