Just a week ago, a laptop more than a decade old sold for a whopping $1.3 million, but this 2008 Samsung NC10 was not just a nostalgic item for bidders. No, the laptop was loaded with six of the world’s most dangerous viruses in existence. The computer cum artwork, titled The Persistence of Chaos, was created by cyber artist Guo O Dong and commissioned by Deep Instinct, a cybersecurity firm. The computer was sold online in New York to an anonymous buyer on May 27th after the entire auction was live-streamed online.
Sounds terrifying, right? The six viruses uploaded onto the laptop sound fairly sinister, too. ILOVEYOU, MyDoom, SoBig, WannaCry, DarkTequila, and BlackEnergy were each loaded onto the computer by Guo. Their power, though, is far more powerful than their names. The malware ranges from early email worms, like ILOVEYOU from 2000, to ransomware, like WannaCry, which only appeared two years ago. The viruses, which in and of themselves are worthless, have been used to cause as much as $95 billion in financial damages worldwide according to Guo.
The creation of The Persistence of Chaos racked up a bill of more than $10,000 and much of that went towards ensuring the computer is as little of a threat as possible. The computer was firewalled and ‘air gapped’ meaning its ability to access the internet would be physically and electronically plugged. The lot also came with a disclaimer stating that the buyer was bound to certain rules upon acquiring the computer stating:
‘The sale of malware for operational purposes is illegal in the United States. As a buyer you recognize that this work represents a potential security hazard. By submitting a bid you agree and acknowledge that you’re purchasing this work as a piece of art or for academic reasons, and have no intention of disseminating any malware. Upon the conclusion of this auction and before the artwork is shipped, the computer’s internet capabilities and available ports will be functionally disabled.’
Guo’s work ‘critiques modern day extremely-online culture,’ according to the website and of The Persistence of Chaos, which Guo originally named Antivaxxer, is really no different. Guo, who didn’t expect the auction to garner attention quite like it did, told artnet News ‘The piece emphasizes that internet and IRL are the same place […] Placing these pieces of malware—which we ordinarily think of as remote processes happening somewhere on [a] network, but surely not to us—into this one crappy old laptop concretizes them.’
Guo, who will receive the money from the auction, has yet to decide what he might do with the earnings. He has said he might roll the money into another project, as one might expect. Another option he is toying with, though? Burning it all.
‘Malware,’ Guo told Motherboard, ‘is one of the most tangible ways that the internet can jump out of your monitor and bite you.’ Let’s all hope the buyer doesn’t try to figure out how to use The Persistence of Chaos for the persistence of bad.