For anyone who has ever worried that his or her computer will contract one virus: Imagine paying for the six deadliest viruses that have been developed as of 2019. In this case, someone isn’t paying to have these viruses treated on his or her computer. Someone is buying a computer precisely because it contains them. In 2019, a 2008 ten inch, fourteen gigabyte Samsung NC-10 Blue Netbook containing the six deadliest computer viruses developed to date was sold for over 1.3 million U.S. dollars. The name of the buyer hasn’t been released, but his or her reason for buying it isn’t as inexplicable as it might initially seem. The auction was an art auction, and the person who bought the computer was purchasing it as a piece of performance art.

Chinese performance artist, Guo O. Dong collaborated with the New York based cyber security firm, Deep Instinct, in order to create the piece, entitled, The Persistence of Chaos. Deep Instinct ensures the pieces owner that the viruses have been safely quarantined, and they cannot be released into the public.

The six viruses the computer contains are: ILOVEYOU, a 2000 virus in the guise of a chain love letter that was spread as an email attachment, Sobig, a 2003 worm and Trojan horse virus a virus disguised as legitimate software that infected computers via email before deactivating itself a month after its release, Mydoom, a 2004 worm spread by sending junk email through infected servers, which has now replaced Sobig as the fastest spreading email virus to date, 2007’s Black Energy, which initially generated bots to create email spam, until it involved into malware powerful enough to cause a blackout in Ukraine in 2015, DarkTequila, a 2013 virus spread through spear phishing an email scam directed at a particular person, business, or organization and designed to steal data for malicious purposes, in this case stealing bank credentials, primarily in Latin American banks, and 2017’s WannaCry, a virus used to perpetrate a global cyber attack that affected roughly two hundred thousand computers in one hundred fifty countries. The ransomers who developed WannaCry demanded three hundred U.S. dollars in Bitcoin as payment from any infected user who wanted to decrypt his or her computer.

According to his webpage, Guo. O. Dong’s work, “critiques extremely-online culture.” Dong recognizes the potential thrill of mastering cyber threats by possessing these six malicious viruses. However, he also hopes anyone who encounters, The Persistence of Chaos will recognize that, for him at least, “persistence” is the operative word. The impact of a virus isn’t limited to the computers it affects. The spreading of a computer virus can have long term, international consequences in the real world.

In a May 2019 interview, Dong told James Vincent, “We have this fantasy that things that happen in computers can’t actually affect us […] Weaponized viruses that affect power grids or public infrastructure can cause direct harm.” Ideally, The Persistence of Chaos won’t harm anyone.  Since the sale of malware for operational purposes is illegal in the United States, Dong partnered with Deep Instinct, a cyber security firm that uses deep neural networks to train computers to interpret new data without human intervention, while creating his performance art program. Air gapped and quarantined, these viruses should be the equivalent of an eighteenth century rifle without gunpowder…unless someone connects the computer to a WiFi network or plugs in a USB.

In a sense, The Persistence of Chaos sold at a loss, despite the impressive price it commanded at the art auction. The computer containing the viruses sold for over 1.3 million U.S. dollars, but the viruses themselves have already caused a combined total of ninety-five billion U.S. dollars in damage.