For Chinese artist Guo O Dong, the simple black Samsung laptop computer, loaded with six potent viruses, symbolises one of the world’s most frightening threats.
On Tuesday his creation The Persistence of Chaos rocked the art world, selling for more than $1.3 million in a New York online auction.
There’s nothing special about the 2008 10-inch Netbook, running Microsoft’s now-outdated Windows XP.
But loaded onto its memory chips are the computing world’s equivalents of the deadliest infectious diseases: “I LOVE YOU” from 2000, “Sobig” of 2003, “MyDoom” (2004), “DarkTequila” (2013), “BlackEnergy” (2015), and the most notorious of all, the “WannaCry” ransomware from two years ago.
It is a powerful symbol of the threat on a simple laptop can pose to the entire world. The six trojans, worms and malware loaded on it have caused at least $95 billion in damage around the world, according to Guo.
Guo is an internet artist “whose work critiques modern day extremely online culture,” the auction site, organised by cybersecurity group Deep Instinct, said.
The computer, viewed via an online video stream, is harmless in its auction state – turned on, but not connected to any network or the internet.
The auction site says it is “airgapped” – it is wireless and internet connections physically and electronically plugged.
But it comes with an ominous warning to the buyer not to unleash its pathogenic programs – possible by unplugging its connection hardware, or by simply inserting a thumb drive.
The site stresses that the artwork is for research use only, saying that anyone who submitted a bid contractually agreed that they “have no intention of disseminating any malware.”
At the same time, the site appeared to acknowledge that the buyer might not heed the agreement.
“Please remember that these are live and dangerous malware samples,” it said.
“Running them unconstrained means that you will infect yourself or others with vicious and dangerous malware.”
The buyer was not identified.