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Daily Drip

A Chinese Artist’s Virus-Infested Laptop Just Sold for $1.3 Million

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How many pieces of art require collaboration with a cybersecurity firm? Chinese internet artist Guo O Dong’s recent work The Persistence of Chaos — a Samsung laptop loaded with six of history’s most destructive malware viruses — did, for one, and it just sold for 1.345 million USD in an online auction.

The plain appearance of the 2008 10-inch notebook belies the truth about what’s contained inside. The havoc wreaked on the world by the six uploaded viruses caused a total of 95 billion USD in economic damage, a toll that could presumably increase if they were released again.

Hence the involvement of the cyber-security firm, New York based Deep Instinct. The precautions they’ve taken include “air-gapping” the computer, a security measure meant to prevent it from connecting to other networks and further spreading the viruses.

Watch live video from PersistenceChaos on www.twitch.tv

The names of the viruses on the laptop range from playful to nightmarish. There’s ILOVEYOU, which was spread as an email attachment under the guise of a love letter starting in 2000, and then the more sinister-sounding Mydoom, an email worm that gave hackers remote access to computers, first active in 2004. The most recently active virus on the computer is the infamous WannaCry from 2017, a ransomware package that held users’ files hostage and demanded payment for their release.

The Persistence of Chaos is by no means Guo’s first project to generate headlines. You may have heard of the Fujian artist’s HiPSTER ON A LEASH performative art project, which involved him riding a Segway around Brooklyn holding a leash attached to a typical Brooklyn “hipster”, or China Headlines, a Twitter bot he created that tweets out articles with alternative, China-specific versions of their headlines.

The real goal of this latest project was to break down the perceived wall that stands between what happens in real life and what happens on the internet, according to Guo, illustrating that harm inflicted in the digital world does extend into the physical one.

“We have this fantasy that things that happen in computers can’t actually affect us, but this is absurd,” Guo said in an interview with the Verge. “Weaponized viruses that affect power grids or public infrastructure can cause direct harm.”

Knowing that the computer harbors these viruses might make some want to keep their distance (just looking at the picture of it is a little unsettling), but at the same time owning it would undeniably be cool. Many agree, it seems, and one anonymous bidder decided to put 1.345 million USD up for the piece of digital artwork.

Let’s hope Guo O Dong and Deep Instinct did enough to prevent anything from slipping through the digital cracks….

Andrew Little
    Andrew is a writer from Dallas, Texas, and currently based in Beijing as a RADII contributor. Contact him at [email protected]