When the Code Red virus hit the internet in the summer of 2001, it caused global panic and almost R30 billion of damage.
But that may be nothing more than a blip on our screens, as computer viruses have come a long way since 2001. Scientists now believe computer viruses may be ready to make the leap to human hosts.
"As computers become more and more deeply engrained in our lives, so too do their problems. I really believe it’s only a matter of time before we come across a virus that can cross the digital divide," says Charles Djzerick of Hawaii Mainland University’s Department of Digital Disease.
"People used to think that swine flu only affected pigs. Look what happened there."
Read: Computers taught how to identify vulnerable DNA
Your PC could turn on you
The biggest question is, of course, how would the infection take place? As it turns out, there are several ways that your PC could turn on you, says Djzerick.
"It isn’t as simple as a flash drive surreptitiously turning itself into a suppository, it will be much more subtle.
"Sound is a big one. A virus could hijack your computer’s speakers and play specially tuned notes which could affect the functioning of certain cells and organs.”
These so-called megafrequencies have been rumoured for some time and a recently leaked US intelligence report revealed fears that North Korea may have come close to mastering the technology after abandoning subliminal advertising as a way of manipulating westerners.
Read: Computer "reads" human thoughts
Another, simpler way that your computer could infect you is simply by breeding diseases in its innards. The inside of a computer is a very warm place, perfect for incubating germs.
“Modern computers not only monitor internal temperature, but also humidity. A rogue CPU could easily use this to create an ideal situation for viral growth before using its fan to blow out this disease-ridden air.
Scent enabled digital media
"Do this enough times and somebody is bound to get infected,” says Alberto Gonzo of The International Centre for Predictive Illness in Madrid.
Then there's "digital scent technology", which has been around for some time and is now being used in a malicious way. DST is technology used to sense, transmit and receive scent-enabled digital media (such as web pages, video games, movies and music). The sensing part of this technology works by using olfactometers and electronic noses.
Computers fitted with scent-generating devices (which includes all personal computers and iMacs built after 2012) use software to recognise odour identifying codes embedded in an email or web page.
These are now being used by cyberterrorists and hackers to infect humans with air-borne diseases such as flu, TB and measles.
"Click on a scent-embedded file and your PC's scent generating device will spray you with the pathogen," says Professor Bradian Odry of Poland's Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, where the olfactometer prototype was developed in 2009.
Can we protect ourselves?
So, how can we protect ourselves from this cybersickness? “Unfortunately, we can’t,” explains Ian Percival Freely, a senior internet advisor to the Obama administration. “We have become so dependent on computers that extricating ourselves from them could be so stressful as to, ironically, make us ill.
We use them for talking, for learning, for dating, for egesting. The only solution would be to adopt a much more rural lifestyle. Expect to see the price of land in places like Polynesia and the Mongolian Steppe soar as people search out places free from computers. “
Read: The computer that hunts down bullies
Fortunately, governments around the world are sitting up and taking notice. The European Union recently approved a measure which would require all laptops to install a “Health and Safety Chip” which would act as a standalone regulator of computer processes to prevent such outbreaks.
However, the measure is only planning for a soft-launch by 2025 followed by several decades of beta-testing and cultural analysis before being put into use.
In the meantime, suggests Freely, “spray your computer with a spirit such as cognac at least three times daily to kill any bugs, and don’t open any emails from Kim-Jong Un.”
Computer injuries on the rise
Computers replacing therapists
Computer's better at lip-reading than humans
Are you concerned about this cyber breach of health? Let us know in the comments below.
NOTE: This was an April
Fool's Day joke and is not based on fact. Comments revealing the prank were