To take an analogy from real life, think of untamed (and perhaps dangerous) animals that have either been annihilated or contained safely in a zoo, leaving just a few of them in their natural habitat. In theory, these animals are still capable of causing disorder or harm to humans. Now extend this example to the computer world. While many computer viruses have been eliminated over the years, there are still strands that exist for research purposes, as well as those in the wild which pose an imminent threat to people’s computers and sensitive data.
The term is thought to have been popularized by the TV series Silicon Valley. It’s frequently used in technical and security circles as it aptly describes the role of malware in the digital ecosystem. The WildList Organization International, often referred to as simply WildList, maintains a website which publishes a monthly list of computer viruses in the wild. This site is highly recommended for security enthusiasts, and for those who wish to stay abreast of the latest security threats.
How Computer Viruses in the Wild are Registered
In 2015, a CNN.com report alleged that nearly a million new computer viruses were released on a daily basis. It is practically impossible to keep up with this level of throughput, nor is it logical. Even if you fear your computer may be under attack, organizations like the WildList require malware to be reported by at least two (2) of its seventy volunteers to be considered a bona fide threat. The idea here is accuracy: Even though computer viruses reproduce at a rate comparable to their biological counterparts (or perhaps even faster), they may go unannounced if they aren’t of epidemic proportions.
It other words, viruses that compromise entire networks, break the Internet, and take over headline news are the ones that are generally registered. Even those which spread from computer to computer can be classified if those who have been affected have the foresight to report it. The WildList and other registers, for profit and otherwise, thrive on the support of contributors from across the world.
So the next time someone says something about a threat being in the wild, you won’t take it to mean that a puma or hyena is lurking your neighborhood. Of course, it very well could be. But in our 21st century of software technology—the same technology, by the way, that is used for tracking and containing wildlife—a threat in the wild is more likely to imply that a malicious program is on the loose, and that you should protect your computer and sensitive data at all costs.