Could Aliens Hack The Earth?

Fear of the unknown is an innate, ancestral dread, a useful survival instinct that is quite common to human beings But sometimes, it can turn into fear of something specific… Like the fear of aliens taking over our planet

People have wondered for decades, will aliens attack the Earth? And if they do, how would they do it? In 2018, astrophysicists Michael Hippke (hip-kae) of the Sonneberg Observatory in Germany and John Learned (lear-ned) of the University of Hawaii published an article which posited possible scenarios for an alien attack The main focus of their dissertation is to prove aliens may be able to hack the Earth How? Academics have long debated whether humanity would benefit from contact with extraterrestrial intelligence Organizations like the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, Institute look for alien life and seek a peaceful dialogue with it Many projects around the world, including a team at China’s new FAST telescope, the largest telescope in the world, are looking for radio signals coming from another civilization somewhere out in space

So far, no one has heard anything very lifelike, but Hippke and Learned believe that’s for the best In fact, they suspect alien messages from space could contain malicious data designed to cause panic on Earth Such an infected message would be and could pose an “existential threat” Therefore humans should be extremely careful what they wish for According to Hippke and Learned’s research, there are different ways extraterrestrial civilizations may annihilate us with just one message

In one scenario, aliens will send a message with a threat like, “We will make your sun go supernova tomorrow” Whether or not they’d actually be capable of doing so, is not important Hippke and Learned believe the message could cause widespread panic sufficient to disable our social structures and our capability to organise our own defence A second scenario considers the possibility that the data in the alien message will be highly compressed in order to increase its transmission rate Experts would probably leave computers to handle the decompression of the data

Hippke and Learned suggest that the message might contain malicious code capable of infecting the computers In the early 2000s, the SETI Institute, proposed decoding messages on air-gapped computers for this reason Air-gapped computers are isolated from unsecured networks, meaning that they're not directly connected to the internet, nor connected to any other system that is connected to the internet They're also physically isolated, meaning data can only be passed to it physically, via USB, removable media or a firewire with another machine But Hippke and Learned argue that this is insufficient protection

Isolating a computer might work if the message is only received at one location But what if -and there’s a good chance this could happen- the message was received by multiple observatories, or even picked up by amateur radio astronomers, whose computers cannot be quarantined? Hippke and Learned also consider a scenario in which extraterrestrial civilizations will send an artificial intelligence machine bearing a positive message like, “We are friends The galactic library is attached It is in the form of artificial intelligence which quickly learns your language and will answer your questions You may execute the code following these instructions

” In this case, if humanity suspected this gift to be a Trojan Horse, scientists might isolate the machine, perhaps by flying it to the moon, so that they could examine it and, if needed, end their study at any time The problem here would be trying to successfully isolate a highly advanced Artificial Intelligence It might be able to persuade its human captors to release it into the wild of the Earthly internet Or the AI may offer something big and exciting, like the cure for cancer, in exchange for its freedom And, although it may be rational for us to bargain with the AI, Hippke and Learned ponder the consequences in a sort of reverse-Contact scenario, in which the machine blueprints change, and the cancer-curing robot turns out to be programmed to deplete Earth of certain vital resources

They also postulate that of course, “[Officials] could decline such offers [from the AI], but [do] not forget that [ordinary] humans are involved in this experiment [too] Consider a nightly conversation between the AI and a guard: ‘Your daughter is dying from cancer I’ll give you the cure for [a] small price…’ We can never exclude human error and emotion” On the other hand, Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, told NBC News that the Hippke and Learned overlooked a number of technical practicalities that space malware would have to overcome to hack our computers and destroy life as we know it In Shostak’s words, “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” Therefore, even if aliens could muster the power to transmit their malware through space, they would still need to make the code compatible with a computer system they don’t even know exists How could they overcome such an obstacle? But this is not the first time someone has speculated about a possible alien hack Besides innumerable books and movies, there was a well-played prank, or as we would call it today, a social experiment On 26th November 1977, someone hacked the Southern Television network, the licence holder for the ITV service covering parts of the South, South-east and South-west of England, and interrupted Southern TV’s news anchor Andrew Gardner

Around 5pm, when Gardner was reporting the day’s headlines, the TV picture wobbled slightly and Gardner was silenced, and replaced by a distorted voice, delivering a six-minute message It purported to be a communication from Vrillon, an individual representing a body called the Ashtar Galactic Command All the command asked was for humans to give up warlike ways and embrace a more peaceful existence before it was too late The event was acknowledged as a hoax by the Independent Broadcasting Authority, and 42 years later, we are still enjoying our bellicose life But this raises the possibility that an alien message would bear a friendly message to lay down our arms, only to leave ourselves vulnerable to slaughter

After years of space exploration, despite the thousands of experts involved and no matter how badly we want to, we still haven’t found any form of intelligent life Perhaps it is wise that there are people already debating whether these hypothetical living creatures will try to annihilate us or not Shouldn't we focus on finding them first?

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