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Westworld’s Hosts: How to Make Sure Your Computer Doesn’t Develop a Conscious

by: Efrat Kotler

This television season, there was one show which has turned into an obsession here at the LogDog offices – and that’s Westworld. The J.J. Abrams production about robots (known as “hosts”) developing consciousness in a wild West-themed park has been a constant watercooler debate topic, making us theorize more often than not what was really going on in the park. The original movie the show is based on, the directorial debut of one Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame, was revolutionary for its time. Not only was it the first movie in history to implement CGI, but it also talked about the concept of worms – computer viruses that self-propagate to other computers. While it may not sound very impressive by today’s standards, where worms, botnets and other malwares are part of our digital lives, we are talking about a movie that came out in 1973. The new show follows in the movie’s footsteps, not only with similar cyber security concepts such as viruses, but also raising real questions about technologies that we are currently racing to develop, such as artificial intelligence. What is consciousness? What happens when computers start diverting from their programmed loops? And more.

While today we are in no danger of any computer developing consciousness, or even passing the Turing test as an adult man, even today our devices can still develop what seems to be a “mind of their own”. Normally, this isn’t caused by some leap in evolution, but with the use of the exact tools mentioned both in the show and movie – malware. Much like in the show, where Dr. Ford can control the hosts, malware gives its operator the ability to control computers. Once a computer gets infected, the malware gains absolute control over the machine that is hosting it (pun intended), and much like the Westworld hosts, starts doing its bidding. Here are some ways in which malware can make your computer start behaving as if it has just developed consciousness:

Sending Spam
While you are using your computer, your machine may be busy in the background, secretly sending tens of thousands, maybe even millions of E-mails to unsuspecting people all over the world. Spammers use malware in order to infect large groups of machines, which then all start receiving commands from the malware operator (what known as a “botnet”). Once the order is given, along with the E-mail to spam and a huge mailing list, the computer starts getting to work to secretly send these messages. Eventually, your IP address may get blocked from sending E-mails and you may find yourself getting temporarily banned from communicating with your E-mail service provider because of your computer’s naughty secret activity. By the way, LogDog can warn you about these exact type of suspicious activities!

Moving Money out of Your Bank Account
The incentive to use malware is usually a financial one. Just as spammers find uses for malware to send out large batches of E-mails – which may later translate to sales and profit – so do identity thieves employ malware for those same gains. As we’ve noted, sophisticated malware usually has full control over the infected machine, down to the “core code” of the computer. This allows it not only to spy on your behavior online, but also alter it. Some financial malware is able to detect when you try to log into the online banking service of your bank account. At that moment, they take over the session and as you wait to access your account, the malware would automatically issue a money transfer from your account to a destination account controlled by the cybercriminal. To make matters worse, it will then display your older balance in the online banking site, even hiding the transfer from the history if it is displayed. Once again, you are victimized here by your computer’s naughty behavior. In this instance, of course, it is much worse.

Protecting criminal content and activity
Many criminals use malware to infect computers and turn them into middlemen – or “proxies”. Once a computer becomes a proxy, criminals and other individuals can then pass through it in order to mask their activities. For example, an East-European cybercriminal can pass through an infected machine in the United States, in order to appear as if he is in the United States, by going through your computer thus assuming its characteristics. This is incredibly helpful for many things, from performing credit card fraud to even just watching shows Netflix available only to Americans. Some of these proxy networks are rented out, allowing anyone who pays to go through your computer, like some host working for Maeve.
So how does one ensures that their computer does not turn into a current version of a host, with all of its implications? Considering all of the described above is caused by malware, then general malware-prevention tips are applied:

  • Always update and patch your operating system (don’t worry, Microsoft or Apple aren’t planning to add reveries just yet).
  • Never download or run suspicious files, even if they came from someone you know – as it may be a self-propagating malware
  • Familiarize yourself with scams online – the purpose of some scams is to get you to download malicious software and get your machine infected
  • Enable security software such as firewall or anti-virus – all modern operating systems come with such capabilities already built-in. Make sure they are activated and running properly. If you prefer, you may want to consider third party software.

By protecting your computer, you ensure that it does not deviate from its loop – and as we’ve learned in the show, these violent delights have violent ends.

We hope you enjoy the season finale much as we do!

Written by  Efrat Kotler

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