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   the alien program. Was the thing a practical joke or a time bomb just

   waiting to go off? Who was behind this?

  

   NASA was working in an information void when it came to WANK. Some

   staff knew of the protesters' action down at the Space Center, but

   nothing could have prepared them for this. NASA officials were

   confident enough about a link between the protests against Galileo and

   the attack on NASA's computers to speculate publicly that the two were

   related. It seemed a reasonable likelihood, but there were still

   plenty of unanswered questions.

  

   Callers coming into the SPAN office were worried. People at the other

   end of the phone were scared. Many of the calls came from network

   managers who took care of a piece of SPAN at a specific NASA site, such

   as the Marshall Space Flight Center. Some were panicking; others spoke

   in a sort of monotone, flattened by a morning of calls from 25 different

   hysterical system administrators. A manager could lose his job over

   something like this.

  

   Most of the callers to the SPAN head office were starved for

   information. How did this rogue worm get into their computers? Was it

   malicious? Would it destroy all the scientific data it came into contact

   with? What could be done to kill it?

  

   NASA stored a great deal of valuable information on its SPAN

   computers. None of it was supposed to be classified, but the data on

   those computers is extremely valuable. Millions of man-hours go into

   gathering and analysing it. So the crisis team which had formed in the

   NASA SPAN project office, was alarmed when reports of massive data

   destruction starting coming in. People were phoning to say that the

   worm was erasing files.

  

   It was every computer manager's worst nightmare, and it looked as

   though the crisis team's darkest fears were about to be confirmed.

  

   Yet the worm was behaving inconsistently. On some computers it would

   only send anonymous messages, some of them funny, some bizarre and a

   few quite rude or obscene. No sooner would a user login than a message

   would flash across his or her screen:

  

               Remember, even if you win the rat race--you're

                                still a rat.

  

   Or perhaps they were graced with some bad humour:

  

                Nothing is faster than the speed of light...

  

    To prove this to yourself, try opening the refrigerator door before

                            the light comes on.

  

   Other users were treated to anti-authoritarian observations of the

   paranoid:

  

                          The FBI is watching YOU.

  

   or

  

                              Vote anarchist.

  

   But the worm did not appear to be erasing files on these systems.