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Botnets for Good

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 SatyanandPande, 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.

To help out with Folding@home’s research, download the program here.

Jackson Webster

Jackson Webster

Jackson is Wonk Bridge's social media critic and resident Luddite, based in Los Angeles. His writing discusses the effects of social media on the political and cultural space. He is, unfortunately, very online, and can be found @joliverwebster on Twitter.