First Sign Of Alien Invasion Could Be Otherworldly Computer Virus




You see that on your console, you start to worry.

A recent paper by Michael Hippke and John G. Learned, submitted to on February 6, 2018, looks into the potential risk of messages received from extraterrestrial intelligence. Could such messages somehow infect our computers with alien viruses and cripple our technological infrastructure?

Turns out the answer is a solid maybe.

Their paper, which you can find over at (PDF is here), argues that any messages we receive from extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) will need to be handled with caution.  They’ll also likely require the use of computers to understand, and therefore could pose a very real risk of being contaminated with computer viruses, either intentionally or unintentionally.

And once we’re contaminated, it’s difficult to say whether or not we could fix that problem.

“After all, it is cheaper for ETI to send a malicious message to eradicate humans compared to sending battleships.”

A Communications Disruption Could Mean Only One Thing…

What are we to do, then? The paper first suggests that “complex messages would need to be destroyed after reception in the risk averse case.”

But Hippke and Learned aren’t only concerned with complex messages. They go over a few types that could prove problematic:

  1. A message of cultural significance, or one that could hurt planetary morale. They use the example of an alien message that reads, “We will make your sun go supernova tomorrow.” They argue this could cause global panic, and they’re probably right. I imagine messages along the lines of “Your planet was just an experiment, and we’re about to run out of funding” would throw us into a long-term existential crisis, as well.
  2. A message, perhaps similar to the above, sent repeatedly and unable to be controlled
  3. A complex message that contains an actual computer virus

They also consider the possibility of aliens sending messages in the form of learning AI. This, they argue, would likely require isolation — perhaps to only “a computer in a box on the moon,” they write — to contain the message and prevent the AI from spreading. Only then could it be translated or executed safely. Failure to do so could allow said alien AI to have free rein over the world, and who knows how that would end?

Possibly with human extinction.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The paper ends by stating that the risk of running into a malicious message from ETI is very low (but not zero), and that “the potential benefits from joining a galactic network might be considerable.” So, risk vs. reward.

I guess the question is…

Would You Open That Alien Email?

Funny enough, back in 2015 scientists were worrying about exactly the opposite — that messages we send into space might accidentally infect alien technology. Would that, perhaps, be seen as an act of war?

“Language can hide a lot of information,” Dr. Anders Sanberg said at the time, during a speech at the British Science Festival. “We’re worried about malware being sent to aliens.”

That might be useful, though.

In the event of an actual alien invasion or extraterrestrial malware, we could always pull an Independence Day and send them a copy of Windows 10.

You hear that, ET? Turnabout is fair play.


Rob Schwarz

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.


  1. So it can be similar to an email in some regards. One thing I’d like to point out is their machines might not run on the same architecture. I’m reminded a bit about the excuse Sony gave for the PS4 not having PS3 backwards compatibility. They blamed the architecture of the systems being different. This got me thinking, do we really even know if their stuff would be able to run on our PCs?

    While the standards of Earth today are mainly 64-bit ARM and X86_64, if I’m not mistaken, the machines they use could something very different compared to our standards like a 81-bit architecture that our technology wouldn’t be able to know what to do with. Thinking about how 64-bit programs can’t run on 32-bit OSes, it’s possible our machines might not be compatible with their programs. Likewise, we might not be able to infect their hardware with ransomware should things come down to cyber warfare.

    Edit: There’s no guarantee their machines would run at the same voltage as our PCs or even have USB ports, so giving them a USB killer might also be out of the question, too.

    1. Yeah, that’s a really good point.

      Just to reach us, you’d figure an alien civilization would be much farther down the chain of progress, even if they followed our exact path of technological development. Doesn’t even have to be that far, though.

      Makes me think of John Titor looking for an IBM 5100, just to read “older” programming languages before the UNIX timeout. And that’s only 20 years away.

      On the other hand, maybe a space-faring civ would take this into account and keep legacy systems around, or even maintain backwards compatibility for that exact reason.

      Fun to think about.

      1. I think we’ve moved away from that issue of UNIX timeout because 64-bit OSes are the norm and more newer programs seem to be running on it. Heck, even many Linux Distros are moving away from it.

        However, I do think that it might be an issue with some old games like Animal Crossing for Gamecube. I’m kind of reminded the Engage Ridley password for the original NES Metroid game. I think Saints Row 4 might have a similar issue. I have one save for the PC version with various mods like mission replay, extended wardrobe and more weapons. The result after between 2-3 days of accumulated play time was the animated pictures don’t change in some areas. Lights on the ship in the sky over the city wouldn’t change, for example. Maybe John Titor was a gamer concerned about his games.