SETI, which uses down time on the computers of thousands of volunteers to search for intelligent signals from space, has a potential problem?besides information, a broadcast to us from an alien intelligence could also carry a computer virus.

While this may sound like an idea from a science fiction movie, Leonard David writes in that physicist Richard Carrigan takes it seriously. He thinks SETI should figure out how to decontaminate any signals it receives.

Early radio signals from Earth have already traveled fifty light years away, to at least 400 stars that are within that range. A planet orbiting one of them could have already responded, but the answer just hasn’t reached us yet. “Such a signal could be useful or possibly very harmful to us,” says Carrigan. “A message should be approached with great care. It may be extremely dangerous. Put simply, the receiver needs virus protection.”

Some of us don’t need a computer to talk to ET.

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