Malware: Symptoms of Viral Infection

An exhibition about the history and evolution of the computer virus, curated by Bas van de Poel and Marina Otero Verzier.

Artistic impression by Tomorrow Bureau and Bas van de Poel

Het Nieuwe Instituut – Museum for Architecture, Design and Digital Culture – presents Malware: Symptoms of Viral Infection, an exhibition about the history and evolution of the computer virus. Using the most infamous examples, the exhibition explores the cultural impact of malware and raises questions concerning security, warfare and geopolitics.

The story begins with relatively innocent DOS viruses, such as Brain, CoffeeShop and Crash, with which the designers probed the visual possibilities of the operating system, often in a playful way. With the rise of the internet, viruses spread faster, first in the form of email worms such as Anna Kournikova, Happy99 and Melissa, and later as ransomware – criminal hostage software including PolloCrypt, Kenzero and Cryptolocker.

For the past 15 years, computer viruses have also been used as spyware and as a geopolitical weapon by governments. The Stuxnet worm was developed by the US and Israeli governments to sabotage Iran’s nuclear programme. The NotPetya cyberattacks, rumoured to be the result of Russian interference, broke the computers of hospitals, banks and the government in Ukraine. The Netherlands too has its own Defence Cyber Command that can attack, manipulate or switch off the digital systems of its enemies.

Meanwhile, the threat of computer viruses has become so great that military defence forces worldwide now incorporate cyber measures: the result is what we call cyberwarfare.