Are you part of Ron Paul's botnet?

Enslaved computers across the globe are campaigning for the Texas libertarian. What could possibly be next?

Published November 1, 2007 12:11AM (EDT)

Reason No. 7,982 why I am thankful I never followed my muse and became a science fiction writer: An article in Wired News on Wednesday reporting how a botnet appears to have been put to work spamming in support of Republican candidate for president Ron Paul. A network of suborned computers across the globe -- South Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Brazil -- launched into action immediately after the close of the Republican debate last Sunday, drenching the Net with messages like "Ron Paul Wins GOP Debate!" and "Ron Paul Exposes Federal Reserve!"

It is a cliché to say that you can't make up stuff like this. But believe me, I've tried. Ten years ago I wrote an entire book about bots (available, used, via Amazon for the amazing low price of 15 cents!), and as part of that project I tried to imagine all kinds of horrible scenarios in which semi-autonomous programs would go berserk. But it never occurred to me that global networks of zombie computers would lie slumbering, only to awaken the moment a presidential debate was over, for the purpose of blanketing the world with libertarian victory propaganda.

Even now, when my hard drive mysteriously starts churning, and my computer's performance slows to a crawl, I wonder, has my machine been seduced by some Storm Worm variant, open for hire on the blacknet? Am I, right now, broadcasting Ron Paul spam to the world?

That would be embarrassing. Maybe I should upgrade my antivirus software. But come on, what good is that? How can we possibly keep up with ever-mutating threats spawned by a global network of malefactors? Libertarians are notorious for being especially wily coding geniuses. They'll always be one step ahead of the rest of us peons. (All this assumes, of course, that Ron Paul's unknown cheerleaders aren't actually fully autonomous artificial intelligences. Hacked voting machines are bad enough, but AI's with their own ideas on who should be in the White House -- that just can't be good.)

Amid my chagrin, I feel an odd global solidarity. We're all in this together. My computer, or yours, or your grandmother's may be slaved to the cause of Ron Paul, but so is someone's desktop in South Korea, or Nigeria, or Brazil. And who knows? While their computers are trying to sway the direction of American presidential politics, ours may be in service to some unknown plot in Italy or Japan. For all I know, my old PC may be fighting to free Tibet!

That good old global network, binding us all together in ways both obvious and obscure. Science fiction can't keep up.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works Ron Paul