03 25 2020
| By Jackson Webster
|'iCorona': A History of Technology During the Pandemic
Anyone who’s ever taken a class in cybersecurity, listened to their company’s mandatory security training videos, or watched a hacker movie has heard of botnets: sets of compromised computers that hackers use to launch denial-of-service attacks. The attack technique made headlines in 2007 when Kremlin-affiliated hackers nearly shut down the entire country of Estonia for a few days by launching a massive DoS attack on Estonian ministries, government websites, banks and newspapers.
However, it seems that not all uses of botnets are malicious. One group of medical laboratories is using a program called Folding@home to conduct research on a host of diseases, most recently including COVID-19. The program is based off of software developed in in 2000 by the Trinidadian-American Vijay Satyanand Pande, a computer researcher based at Stanford University. Folding@home asks benevolent users to install its software on their machines, and then harnesses idle processing power to generate simulations of protein behavior. By using thousands of machines remotely, Folding@home is able achieve very high computing speeds — around 98.7 quadrillion “FLOPS” calculations per second. For comparison, IBM’s Summit supercomputer, the fastest in the world, can reach 143.5 quadrillion FLOPS.
Since 2000, Folding@home has used participants’ donated computing power to examine causes and treatments for Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, various types of cancers, and brittle bone disease. The Stanford-based team announced earlier this month that it was setting computing power aside to assist researchers in examining potential target proteins on SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV, the two viral strains fueling the current coronavirus pandemic.
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