The federal Centers
for Disease Control (CDC) and National Science Foundation (NSF) have issued a stunning joint announcement: PC viruses, worms,
and spyware can now be transmitted via human contact.
Researchers at St.
Paul's College in Virginia have isolated roughly 100 cases of systems infected by human contact, the two agencies said at
a press conference at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. The mode of transmission? Each system's user had physical contact
with another user whose system was known to be infected. The level of contact was found to be as brief as a handshake. One
researcher, Avril Hidokwon, said she documented a case where the Netsky.P virus spread to 12 systems via a sneeze.
Scientists have long
held that electronic viruses could not possibly spread unless there was some sort of digital (wired or wireless) connection
between the infected PC and the victim systems (or the victim systems and servers). "What we did not account for," explained
Hidokwon at the hastily organized joint press conference, "was nanotechnology."
Apparently these PC
viruses, Trojan horses, and pieces of spyware are not simply floating on air or clinging to people's hands; they're actually
being transported via nanobots—tiny robots that may be no more than a molecule in size and are capable of carrying out
simple instructions. There is already a cell-sized robot that can walk on its own. But these virus bots are, according to
the CDC's Earl Leis, an accident.
We believe that the
first infections originated in California," Leis explained. According to a statement handed out to journalists at the Arlington
press conference, two scientists in Southern California, Daniel Banner and Petrona Parker, reported in January that about
140,000 nanobots that had been developed to deliver insulin to diabetics via the bloodstream had been lost in their lab. The
NSF noted the incident but did not report it to any other government body. "We assumed," said the NSF's Charlene Crykit, "that
the bots would simply run out of power and die. That, obviously, never happened."
The current theory
holds that the bots affixed themselves to biohazardous material that was disposed of by the lab. Then, during California's
recent rainstorms, the bots used the sewer systems to spread and, possibly, propagate.
The NSF and CDC, however,
are at a loss to figure out how the bots got from the sewers to computers. "One theory," said the CDC's Leis, "is that some
runoff made it to the California water-filtration plants and eventually got into the drinking supply." As for how the infected
water made in into an infected PC, Leis theorizes that "someone accidentally spilled drinking water on his or her keyboard."
"I'm not at all surprised,"
said PC industry watcher and longtime PCMag.com columnist John C. Dvorak. "It was bound to happen. All of our systems are
rife with spyware, and many, many of them have hidden viruses." Dvorak even has a theory on how the infected nanobots got
back out of the infected system and onto the first human carrier, "Some idiot burned a CD or DVD and then took it out of the
&&^%*&!-up system. The %#&*! bots then went directly from the surface of the optical disk to some poor schlub's
hands. Most of these idiots don't even bother to wash their hands after using the bathroom. He probably wiped his hand right
across his face and inhaled the suckers. The rest is history. Sheesh!"
For now, the CDC and
NSF believe that the outbreak is confined to Southern California, New Mexico, Utah, New York City, and Delaware. They're asking
computer users in those states and municipalities to shut down all of their systems and servers for 72 hours. Trapped in the
systems without any light, moisture, or electricity, the system-bots should die within 24 to 72 hours, the agencies said.
As for bodily contact, users in the afflicted areas should bathe themselves, family members, and even pets in kosher salt
baths. That will make the bots gorge themselves on diluted salt and die within 26 minutes, say the California researchers
who developed them. Companies in affected states should close down their offices, contact a haz-mat team, and have them sweep
For instructions on how you can decontaminate yourself and your PC and also avoid infection, click here.