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Yesterday, my dad was talking to me about a television program he was watching regarding "zombie computers". I've heard of human zombies and zombie animals…but computer zombies never crossed my mind. I decided to do some research, and I discovered what the term "zombie computer" means:



According to Howstuffworks.com, "Zombie computers are computers that have been taken over by a hacker without the knowledge of the owner". Basically, hackers who plan to hack with malicious intent take over unsuspecting computers to perform their own illegal activities. In order to successfully infect a computer, the user must open an installation program sent by the hacker (which is typically attached to an e-mail). Once the attachment is opened and the software is installed, nothing happens. However, each time the user starts his/her computer, the program becomes active, instructing the computer to act differently (in other words, the hacker is able to manipulate the computer's agency). 

These hackers don't usually only focus one one computer. The Howstuffworks.com article explains how one hacker can take control of more than 1.5 million computers to do their dirty work. This network of computers is referred to as a "zombie army". Some of the malicious activities these hackers can have computers do include sending spam and stealing personal information such as credit card numbers -- all without the user of the computer even knowing that their computer is responsible. 

This article on computer zombies reminded me of the discussion we had in class on Thursday in regards to control. It is obvious that these hackers go to extremes to be able to control vulnerable computers in order to obtain information and send spam. Additionally, I feel that this article emphasizes the idea that the term "zombie" is a facet within our culture that can be applied to many instances -- in this case, technology.

Thankfully, there are ways to protect your computer from becoming a zombie. Downloading antivirus software and not opening files that you think are suspicious is a great way to protect yourself from becoming infected. Unlike the many zombie stories that we have read in class so far, there are ways to cure your computer if it has become a zombie, such as running a virus scan or taking your computer to tech support. If these options fail, the only way to successfully return your computer back to normal is to erase its memory and reload its operating system.

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12 Responses so far.

  1. Interesting post. It's unfortunate but I'm sure it happens all the time. Also makes me think how humans in general have become zombies to technology today... must.check.Facebook!

  2. I believe this is how a lot of DDOS attacks are executed, and these events can result in legal repercussions for the individuals who own the computers that were involved. Wouldn't it suck if someone hacked your PC and used it to perform illegal activities that you were held responsible for?

    http://www.fbi.gov/sanfrancisco/press-releases/2011/charges-in-distributed-denial-of-service-attack-against-santa-cruz-county-website

    A DDOS attack reminds me of a silly zombie horde that can't figure out where the door is so instead they just bump into walls or something until they find the door or knock a wall down. But all the stress and anxiety of a zombie horde trying to make its way into your hideout is probably closer to the essence of the DDOS attack.

  3. Very interesting post! At first I really had to think to make the connection between zombies and computers. I didn't think it worked at first but once I stated thinking of it in terms of the "enslaved rather than infected" framework that "Modern Zombie Makers" put forward, it really seemed to make sense. The mass of computers is essentially a zombie horde that lacks agency and is doing the bidding of a single benefactor. You could also make the connection with "Delice" when she is brought back from the dead by the living for a specific task.

    Also I really feel that Andrew's point about facebook zombies is becoming a scary reality. Whether it's facebook, twitter, or just smartphones in general, people are acting more and more zombie like everyday and are completely absorbed in their phones/devices. One thing that drives me particularly crazy is having to avoid bumping into cellphone zombies while walking down the street.

  4. On the happy side, people whose computers become parts of a botnet or other hacked zombie computer horde are rarely prosecuted for it. The people in the FBI link from RD (Christopher Doyon and Joshua John Covelli) were part of a hacker collective allegedly working with Anonymous.

    Of course, that doesn't help you OR your zombified computer. :-(

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  6. Michael, I can definitely see the similarity between the "zombie computer" and the Delice short story. As you pointed out, computer zombies don't fit perfectly into the "infected" zombie model. Rather, it's more about being controlled by another person to do their bidding (like Delice was brought back to life by Ava Ani to commit murder).

  7. MShebell says:

    When I first saw the title of your post I had also thought that it was going to be about how technology has led to a type of zombification of our society, where we are enslaved to all of our devices, only interacting with the outside world for long enough so that we may snap a picture to post on instagram or facebook. Either way, interesting piece on how the hacker can manipulate the computer's own agency. And on that note, I'm off to run a virus scan on my computer!

  8. Rachel V says:

    Now, wait a minute. I understand the visual of people as zombies enslaved by their technology, a la Warm Bodies (in the airport scene: "we used to be able to 'communicate' har har), but not the actual premise. When you are using a smartphone, tablet, etc, there is an exchange of information going on. One is not actually a tool of the device, but using the device as a tool for that exchange, most notably to communicate with others, via social networking sites, or games, or media in general. This completely differs from the idea of a zombie horde, at least in terms of agency. We are reasoning through a thought process (I want to see what Kelly's eating for dinner - looks tasty, now I want a pulled pork sandwich - look up pulled pork sandwich recipes - found zombie pig shoot-em-up video game - I will rid the world of Zombie Pigs for the next two hours! - etc), and executing behaviors based on that intention. Agency, ladies and gentlemen. So although we might not be talking to the random stranger next to us, or staring creepily at all the people we are passing on the street, we are nevertheless making contact with others, even if it's on a device. In fact, using this logic, one could argue we are engaging in more social activity than we otherwise would simply because it's at our fingertips.

  9. Rachel I heard a good TED talk that addressed exactly what you just mentioned:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1KJAXM3xYA

    Diana your post made me think of this terrible sci-fi movie I watch on a plane once. The movie was called Surrogates. In the movie each person in the world never left there homes. Rather they used remote controlled surrogates that resembled their owner in all details.

    Bruce Willis starred in the movie as a detective investigating a series of suspicious surrogate murders. The interesting thing about the robot murders though was that when the surrogates were killed, so were their human counterparts. The act of hacking, in my mind, harkened to the idea of body snatching. And if you think of your laptop or smart phone as a part of yourself, as surely most of us subconsciously do, then the idea holds water. It's a valid fear.

    I later learned the movie was based on a series of comic books from 2005-2006.

  10. Miles says:

    It is quite frightening once we think of hows easily some of these hackers can take control of so many computers and use them to do their own bidding. As our technology becomes increasingly advanced and wirelessly connected people will be able to take over more control. We already have unmanned drones and military vehicles, couldn't hackers find a way to control these vehicles? And once our technology becomes so advanced that it has its own agency and can remember, then we are not that far from machines taking control of other machines. Maybe zombie computers are more dangerous, more of a threat and more realistic than regular human zombies?

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