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vendredi 29 mai 2015

Animals that don't Exist

The Electronic Ant

The electronic ant, Formica electronica, is not, in the classical sense of the term, a living being. Although it reproduces, evolves, conquers new habitats, feeds and fights, it is an entirely new lifeform that has appeared in the XXIst century, and could not have done so sooner. The electronic ant is not a biological organism. It is a digital lifeform.
First discovered by researchers at Kaspersky labs in december 2014, it has since gained much renown among IT-professionals. The code composing the ants is being analyzed in great details by both cyber-security experts and academics, and, more recently, biologists (although the research done by the latter group has been in most cases restricted to a conceptual approach).
The electronic ants feed on data, and tend to colonize servers, and clog up internet connections. Just like their biological counterparts, there are worker ants, whose task consists mainly of bringing data home to their nest, and fighter ants, who try to disrupt security technology in order to protect their nest and the workers. Every nest has a queen, who is the only one that reproduces, and they conquer new habitats by having an equivalent to the nuptial flight, where males and females mate. Afterwards, the females disperse through cyberspace, and, when they find an appropriate breeding ground, rich in data and well connected, they start their own colony.
At first, researchers thought that this peculiar mode of dispersion was a simple whimsy of the author(s) of the code (who remain(s) unknown to this date), and served no practical purpose whatsoever. Computer viruses can easily reproduce without the hassle of sexual intercourse or foraging for food. And they need free memory, and not memory already occupied by data, to increase their numbers. However, recent studies by Prof. Hubert O. F. Threestorm, of the Digital Life Lab at MIT, Cambridge, has discovered that this peculiar behavior does not exist purely by fancy.
By ingesting data from around them, the queen ant can change the digital signature of its descendents, and thus make them much harder to detect by anti-virus programms and other security technology, in addition to providing randomness to the evolutionary algorithm of the ants. In addition, the data foraging done by the worker ants creates empty memory space where the ants can now put copies of themselves. Although many specialists remain convinced that easier means do exist to achieve these same goals, it is clear that the author(s) of the code did not include these particularities purely out of fancy.
The biologists that have started studying the ants have found new behaviors (for example, worker ants starting to reproduce if the queen is 'killed', or leaving 'pheromone' trails to data-rich environments) that show a deeper similarity to 'real' ants than was suspected before, and a comprehensive analysis of the source code and the ants' capabilities has yet to be completed.
In the meantime, the costs the ants have caused by destroying data, slowing down servers and clogging connections is believed to be in the billions of dollars already. As of yet, no security firm has found an effective measure to destroy the ants, or stop them from penetrating a network, since their rapid evolution makes both their technics and digital signatures hard to predict, and hard to stop.

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