A Samsung laptop infested with the six most dangerous viruses in Internet history, the brainchild of Chinese artist Guo O Dong, sold for over $1.3 million on May 29.
Entitled Persistence of Chaos, this atypical work of art was born from the imagination of the Chinese artist Guo O Dong in collaboration with the American cybersecurity company Deep Instinct. The concept behind the project was to "materialize the abstract threats of the digital world".
The six viruses implanted into the machine emerged in the early 2000s and remain to this day the most devastating malware in history. In total, they have caused more than $95 billion in damage. The Samsung NC10-14GB 10.2 with Windows XP SP3 carries the pests known as ILOVEYOU, MyDoom, SoBig, DarkTequila, BlackEnergy and WannaCry. If the latter seems familiar, it is because it is relatively recent. In May 2017, WannaCry hit more than 200,000 computers in Europe, resulting in nearly $100 million worth of damage to the NHS (National Health Service in the UK) before the hacker Marcus Hutchins was arrested.
ILOVEYOU, meanwhile, appeared in the 2000s in the form of a love letter email, which caused the equivalent of $15 billion in damage and affected 45 million computers.
"We have this fantasy that things that happen in computers can’t actually affect us, but this is absurd," the artist told The Verge. The concept was developed with the company Deep Instinct, which made the machine harmless by having it undergo an air gap, a precaution that prevents it from automatically connecting to the Internet and spreading its content. This malware is therefore safe to use unless it is connected to a Wi-Fi network or an external device. Guo O Dong said that before being shipped to its new owner, the device would be cut off from all its outlets.
The work went up for auction online and sold for $1,345,000 to an unknown buyer through a site specifically created for the work, where viewers could see the effects of different viruses live.
Since the sale of malware is strictly illegal in the United States, bidders had to agree to the terms of the sale, and declare that the computer would be acquired as a work of art or for purely academic study.
The artist explained his project in these terms to Vice, "These pieces of software seem so abstract, almost fake with their funny, spooky names, but I think they emphasize that the web and IRL are not different spaces. Malware is one of the most tangible ways that the internet can jump out of your monitor and bite you."
Guo O Dong came to fame in the United States with his project HiPSTER ON A LEASH, when he drove a segway holding a hipster on the leash. Now, Persistence of Chaos has once again brought him into the spotlight with a work that comments on contemporary society.