The Malware Museum chronicles the history of computer viruses

Long before the Internet and portable hard drives, there were floppy disks. Square pieces of plastic that were a commonplace way to transport information from one user to another until about the mid 90s.

Along with useful data, the diskettes sometimes carried malware. These early viruses could cause bugs in your MS-DOS or encrypt all the information on your hard drive. But their primary purpose was disruption.

Computer security expert Mikko Hyppönen, who’s been studying viruses for over twenty years, says that early computer malware was a hobby, something young programmers did to show off to their friends and fellow coders in the community. Viruses made by certain programmers often contained recognizable signatures and incorporated bright colours, loud sounds and graphics into their bugs, because the creators wanted their work to be seen.

Hyppönen has collected many of these viruses over the years, and he recently partnered up with Jason Scott from The Internet Archive to display the most interesting specimen in The Malware Museum. You can run over 80 different viruses on a DOS simulator right inside your browser – and don’t worry, all the malicious parts of the code have been rendered harmless before being exhibited in the museum.

“You won’t be able to infect your computer with any of the malware in the museum, but you can actually see what they looked like,” Hyppönen told Spark. “For example, there is a famous virus that’s called the Ambulance Car virus, which was spreading around 1990. Whenever it would infect computers, it would stay quiet for a week and then suddenly you’d have this animation of a white, black and red ambulance car driving across your screen with the ambulance car sound playing in the background.”

As soon as money entered the picture, the art of programming viruses changed. It was no longer about showing off or seeing how far one viral piece of code would spread. Instead, it was about the enormous amounts of money that could be stolen.

As the danger malware presented to the infected computer systems increased, the viruses also became less visible, sneakier. In order to keep logging keystrokes or pilfering sensitive data, the malware had to go unnoticed as long as possible. So everything that defined the viruses at the Malware Museum –the noises, the colours, the inside jokes– became obsolete.

But Hyppönen believes it’s important for netizens to be familiar with viruses of the past: not just to reminisce about the lost art of virus programming, but also to learn about the evolution of our own interaction with data.

“I probably wasn’t really appreciating them when I was analyzing these things twenty five years ago, but they are some kind of an art,” Hyppönen explained. “They are visually interesting, and it’s a very interesting look back at the early days of a problem that we still fighting today.”

A version of this article appeared on CBC’s Spark in March 2016.


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Day 2: Regina to Lowe Farm

After scrubbing off some evidence of the insect massacre and enjoying our complimentary hotel breakfast (though not at the same time) the following morning, we got back on the road. The rest of Saskatchewan met us with familiar sights: fields of different shades of green and yellow, occasionally dotted with herds of ungulates. As we approached the provincial border, more hills and turns appeared in the road, with taller trees adding to the landscape.

Olsy at the wheel   

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Day 1: Calgary to Regina

My road trip narrative starts from the day we left Calgary. Over the past 11 years of living in Canada, I’ve done the Alberta-British Columbia drive a few times with stops in different towns. But I’ve seen nothing between Calgary and Toronto, these 3000-something kilometers that house historical significance and years of Canadian heritage – not to mention my friends’ hometowns I know by name, but have never visited.

Our original plan was to head out at dawn to avoid the heat, since we were looking at six hours of driving without air conditioning. The flatness of eastern Alberta and Saskatchewan posed a problem: while we could avoid direct sunlight on a mountain road, this wasn’t an option in the prairies. So we hit the road at 11, expecting to make a stop halfway for gas and lunch if we were hungry.


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Strathcona businesses serve new grub with old community values

VANCOUVER — On the eve of summer 2015, three businesses are preparing to open their doors to residents and visitors of Strathcona. Every business brings its own distinct vibe to the area: The Heatley, a gastropub-style neighbourhood watering hole; Roots+Fruits, a health food café with fresh seasonal juices; and Ed’s Daily, a commissary with grab-and-go breakfast and lunch. While the cuisines couldn’t be more different, the owners of all three businesses share a common interest: making a valuable contribution to the Strathcona community.

“I think if you’re planning on opening a business down here without a community program, you wouldn’t really fit in,” says Brett Turner, who co-owns Ed’s Daily with Dax Droski. The commissary-style café on the corner of Heatley and Powell hasn’t seen a break in foot traffic since its opening in early May, whether it’s a lunch rush of employees from the animation studio next door or morning coffee runs from the residents of nearby social housing units.

“We see all kinds of backgrounds coming into the café, and so far it’s been really well-received in the community,” Turner explains. He adds that they’ve seen a lot of anticipation leading up to the opening date. “We were on social media about a month before we opened, and obviously people were seeing something being built here, so people kept reaching out to us, asking when we were opening.”

The Heatley, located just up the street from Ed’s Daily, has seen a similar kind of attention. Owner Michael Brennan says he has made a point of leaving the windows and the doors of The Heatley open throughout renovations. “I’ve always invited people to come in and ask who I am and what I’m doing,” he explains, “and by that, I feel like I’ve already gained support of the community.” His vision of The Heatley was brought about by what he felt was an absence of old-fashioned neighbourhood pubs in Vancouver. Strathcona, with its diverse yet tight-knit community, seemed like the perfect spot.

“The one thing that Strathcona has that I think many neighbourhoods are sorely missing is businesses interspersed throughout the community,” Brennan says. “I wanted to ensure that what I wanted to do was in line with the neighbourhood, not a radical transformation of [it].”

It seems that all Strathcona business owners, whether they’ve been running businesses for many years or moved into the neighbourhood recently, share Brennan’s sentiment. Scott McTavish, who owns Roots+Fruits, says paying homage to the history and tradition of Strathcona is part of the business identity. “Our goal is to be embedded and accepted by the community and give them what they want,” he explains.

His inspiration for the menu at Roots+Fruits came from extensive research on positive effects of a healthy diet. “It soon became obvious that a lot of the food that we’re consuming everyday can be improved upon and should be more convenient to obtain,” McTavish says. Following that realization, McTavish has created an oasis of responsibly-sourced organic superfoods and seasonal freshly-squeezed juices.

Ed’s Daily and The Heatley are both participants of Made in Strathcona, a Strathcona Business Improvement Association initiative aimed at highlighting local businesses. As SBIA executive director Joji Kumagai explains, the business owners’ interest in the daily lives of Strathcona residents ensures that the changes in the community have a positive impact. “It’s not just about opening a business and trying to do whatever you can to make a buck – which is what you have to do as a small business owner – but also to really understand how to make your community better.”

If the three newest additions to the Strathcona culinary scene are any indication, things are about to get a lot better – for residents and foodies alike.

A version of this article appeared in BeatRoute Magazine in June 2015.

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‘Ex machina’ a fascinating but familiar look at artificial intelligence

ex machina

VANCOUVER — The tradition of films about artificial intelligence dates back to the late 1920s, with highlights such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and WarGames influencing an entire generation’s views on robots. The best films in the genre were written and filmed before robots became as commonplace as they are today: from Google’s ambitious DeepMind project to household names like Roomba and Siri, we have incorporated AI into our daily routines. Researchers and the general public have never been more informed on artificial intelligence – but maybe this familiarity is starting to get in the way of making good art about robots.

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We need better criminal response to domestic violence: crisis centre

(Courtesy Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter)

(Courtesy Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter)

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Vancouver police have answered several domestic violence calls at the Nguyen house, but that didn’t stop the tragedy from happening.

The city’s sixth homicide was a suspected motive of a domestic dispute; the last one happened only one week earlier. This renews a local women’s centre call for change in addressing domestic abuse.

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Proposed project could bring fire pits to Vancouver beaches

(Courtesy Vancouver Campfire Project/Facebook)

(Courtesy Vancouver Campfire Project/Facebook)

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – How would you like to sit around a fire at the beach this summer?

A student collaboration out of SFU and UBC hopes for an exemption in the laws around open fires in Vancouver.

It’s called the Vancouver Campfire Project, and organizers are proposing to put fire pits on Vancouver beaches, with a pilot pit proposed for this summer on Jericho Beach. Continue reading

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