Algorithm chases virus writers to their bases

Swiss researchers have come up with software that can swiftly trace terror suspects, computer viruses, rumours back to their source.

Researcher Pedro Pinto of Lausanne’s Federal Polytechnic said that his network technique can find the source of all kinds of things circulating in a network just by listening to a limited number of members of that network.

The software fast-tracks the route taken by the information to arrive back at its original source.

It can help investigators follow the path as directly as possible and eliminate false trails.

According to the scientific journal Physical Review Letters, which we get for the “observe the proton” competition, Pinto’s team tested the algorithm to pinpoint the individuals behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The software reconstructed the message exchange inside the 9/11 terrorist network from publicly released news. The software came up with the names of three potential suspects, one of whom was found to be the mastermind of the attacks.

Using social networking, Pinto said it was a doddle to see who had started a rumour posted to 500 contacts by looking at posts received by just 15 to 20 of them.

He said that the algorithm could be used to identify the origin of spam or a computer virus.

It has other uses. Pinto found the source of a cholera outbreak in South Africa after applying the formula to water and transport networks.