2 minutes reading time (444 words)

The beauty of the virus

The beauty of the virus “Ransomware Pollocrypt”, Tomorrow Bureau and Bas van de Poel
There is beauty in (almost) everything. Curators Bas van de Poel and Marina Otero believe this to be true with malware and viruses; so much so that they have created an exhibition all about then at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam.

Malware: Symptoms of Viral Infection covers the cultural impact of such damage, as well as other impacts including geopolitics and our sense of security.

Starting with DOS viruses, these nascent programs were about manipulating the operating system in a more playful way (bearing in mind that machines of this age were less likely to be connected to a network). The mass adoption of the Internet from the mid 1990s allowed email worms to spread such as the famous Anna Kournikova variant. After that came ransomware such as Kenzero and Cryptolocker.

The disadvantageous effects of such software on personal Iives was, of course, something of value by governments. Stuxnet was designed by the US and Israeli governments to inflict damage on the Iranian nuclear programme, and NotPetya caused significant damage in the Ukraine as a virus supposedly developed by the Russian government.

The curators refer to the ‘anonymous design practice’ of malware:


​Although we make every possible effort to prevent infection, a well-made computer virus displays has a certain sophistication and even beauty. This exhibition acknowledges the design practice behind viruses, which often remains anonymous and clandestine. The paradoxical beauty and complexity of this type of technology is made visible: the more intelligent the design, the more damaging its potential consequences.

In our drive towards productivity and efficiency, society has become ever more reliant on digital technologies, all of which are additionally interlinked. This means that critical infrastructures such as water and energy supplies, government services, banks and transportation are more susceptible than ever to infection by computer viruses. At the same time, huge strides are being taken in the areas of artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that malicious programs too are better able to learn to adapt to human behaviour and emotions.

The chaos and damage non-human actors such as viruses can wreak is increasing. These do not represent a uniform, abstract 'evil,' but rather each individual virus is a unique combination of refined design on the one hand and more-than-human agency and potential for destruction on the other. The result is a challenge for the design community: how can we learn to design security and privacy under the current conditions in such a way that malicious hackers, malware and cyber warfare can be resisted?

Malware: Symptoms of Viral Infection runs from 05/07/19 until 10/11/19. There’s a dedicated website with more, and we’ll try to interview the curators sometime soon.

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