HOME Technology 2002
Vile viral invaders
The influx of internet nasties invading computers this past year has become a malicious plague forcing anti-virus software from precautionary to compulsory status for everyone going on-line.

While most medium to large enterprises are secured with firewalls, mail gateways, content filters and anti-virus scanners small business and home users are facing a veritable infestation.

Most at risk are those who havenít purchased or updated anti-virus packages or have failed to download patches to close security holes in their Microsoft products. According to ICSA ( http://www.trusecure.com/  ), 87 percent of major virus infections today are carried by e-mail.

Many PC resellers are now bundling anti-virus software and the nationís main internet service providers have been so inundated with infectious email theyíre putting up their own defences.

Xtra installed its state-of-the-art anti-virus email filter in July this year at a cost of around $1 million which is trashing between 30,000-40,000 viruses a day. By November it had dealt to over 541,000 net nasties. Iconz is also offering a service and TelstraClear plans to launch its anti-virus software in the new year.

Sonic WALL ( www.sonicwall.com  ) claims there are over 50,000 known viruses, with 200 to 800 discovered every month. In September and October the W32/Bugbear worm accounted for over 70 per cent of all virus activity. The invader copies itself to all network attached devices and emails itself out to contacts in your mailbox and hard drive. It includes a 'Trojan horse' that attempts to capture passwords and credit card details to send back to the virus writer.

Earlier in the year similar threats came from the W32/Klez worm, which swept its way into mailboxes causing major disruption and inconvenience. It quickly reached critical mass and remains one of the most insidious net infections.

The worldwide economic impact of virus attacks including repairs and lost productivity was estimated at more than $13 billion in 2001, a reduction of $US4 billion over 2000 and slightly up on 1999, according to Computer Economics. A big reason for the high 2000 figure was the attack of the Love Bug which caused $US8.75 billion in damages. Its successor was Nimda (admin spelled backwards) which infected over two million servers and 700,000 PCs in just 24 hours.

Unlike previous virus threats, seemingly innocuous messages containing Klez or Bugbear activate without opening the attachment. Unless you have the latest (version 6) update of Internet Explorer or have been keeping up with the security patches they auto execute. Even placing your cursor over the incoming message to delete it will cause it to dump its payload.

They have their own inbuilt mail client which compiles addresses from all over your machine then randomly selects a Ďfromí line to replicate making it difficult to tell where the message came from.

As viruses get smarter theyíre also finding ways to de-activate anti-virus software. Donít even attempt to open anything suspicious, especially if it has an attachment and you donít know who itís from. Keep your virus definitions up to date automatically at least on a weekly basis, and regularly run the full virus scanner. And donít take every virus warning at face value. Check the on-line hoaxes first ( http://vil.mcafee.com/hoax.asp ) before emailing all your friends and unintentionally becoming a virus of the uninformed human kind.

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