Virtually all of us have, at one stage, received a dodgy looking email with the title saying something like ‘EXTRA IMPORANT!!!’, or ‘SEND BANK DETAILS FOR CASH’. Even if you’re not great with technology, you’ll know not to open the attachment.

But international scientists are now saying that aliens could use malware to bring about humanity’s downfall – by sending us messages hidden with malicious AI. The German and American researchers are advising us that such messages could wreak havoc with our power systems.

They’ve concluded that if we ever do get a complex message from aliens, we should treat it in the same way as we would a spam email – and bin it.

What if it’s just a nice ‘Hello’?

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In a study titled ‘Interstellar communication. IX. Message decontamination is impossible’, two academics at Sonneberg Observatory in Germany and the University of Hawaii explain how we may need computers to display, analyse and understand any message we ever get from space.

“Such a message cannot be decontaminated with certainty, and technical risks remain which can pose an existential threat,” the researchers write.

“Complex messages would need to be destroyed in the risk averse case.”

They add that it doesn’t matter if the message they send is simple or complex, it has the potential to do untold damage on Earth.

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The researchers explain that if we do receive messages which look ‘positive and interesting’, it would probably be better to print them out rather than tinker with them on a computer. If they did attach some advanced form of malware to a message, it could sink it’s teeth into our systems and shut them down, send them into overdrive of anything in between.

While that’s obviously a big concern, the team behind the study also reckon the messages we send to them need to be carefully considered.

“As we realize that some message types are potentially dangerous, we can adapt our own peaceful transmissions accordingly,” the researchers write. “We should certainly not transmit any code.

“Instead, a plain text encyclopedia, images, music etc. in a simple format are adequate. No advanced computer should be required to decrypt our message.”

They say any message more complex than easily printable images or plain text may pose ‘technical risks’ that are impossible to assess – such as how the aliens might interpret it.

Despite that risk, the scientists note that there may be ‘considerable’ potential benefits to taking the risk on a message and entering into a ‘galactic network’.

“It is always wise to understand the risks and chances beforehand, and make a conscious choice for, or against it, rather than blindly following a random path.

“Overall, we believe that the risk is very small (but not zero), and the potential benefit very large, so that we strongly encourage to read an incoming message,” the researchers say.

Whether you think contacting aliens would be a positive thing or would potentially spell ruin for humanity, there’ll always be people wanting to take a peek if they ever did try to slide into our global DMs.

We’ve been alone in the universe for millions of years. What’s a bit of malware between friends?

Featured Image Credit: The Simpsons

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