After the onslaught of the Melissa and the CIH viruses, officials from Network Associates, a leading anti-virus vendor, are claiming that newer virus programs are becoming more malicious.
The same officials also said that more viruses now are being created intentionally to cause damage, unlike in the past when most virus creators developed them simply to see if they could do it.
In an interview with Computerworld Philippines, Dean Stockwell, director of Network Associates' sales support team in the Asia Pacific, said one recent virus was created to bring down a Web site. The virus apparently sent multiple ping requests to every computer that accessed the Web page. The Web site went down after the server could no longer handle all the requests coming in. "We're actually seeing a shift. We're seeing that new viruses are being designed to be more malicious," Stockwell said. The Melissa virus, notwithstanding the damage it caused worldwide when it struck, has the potential to become more lethal, he said. "The Melissa virus was already in step one, it could be more dangerous. Imagine a virus pulling data from a computer and sending it out to millions of computers everywhere," Stockwell said.
"Forget the list of porn Web sites (the Melissa virus) carried. There's more to Melissa because it could send out personal data to many users. Now we're asking, is that a virus or something else?" he added.
Another danger that the Melissa posed was its being undetected until it struck out. Stockwell said that despite the heuristic capabilities of anti-virus software, or the ability to detect potential viruses based on a number of patterns, the Melissa virus was not detected because it carried an entirely new set of characteristics that anti-virus software did not recognize yet. Viruses remain the number one security threat worldwide, said Gerald Pe¤aflor, country manager of Network Associates' local office. Of course, a hacking incident could also be very damaging, even to the point that a bank can go bankrupt is a security breach occurs, he said.
"Viruses are still the number one problem and it will continue that way. It's really in the prevalence of viruses and the way they're spread. If a virus is successful, it can be really destructive," he said.
The best people can do to protect themselves from virus attacks is to constantly update their virus software, even every hour if a company is really serious about security.
Stockwell said that Network Associates provides this continuous update facility. Virus antidotes are updated every 15 minutes and uploaded to the company's Web site. The company's anti-virus software allows users to set a regular updating of their software through the Internet.
In a corporate network, for example, this can be done by setting the server to send update requests to the Network Associates Website every hour, and sent across the various network nodes regularly too, Stockwell explained.
He noted that the highly destructive CIH virus that struck very recently could have been avoided if users kept their anti-virus programs updated.
The virus caused the most damage in Asia than in any part of the world because most users in this region had failed to update their anti-virus software.
Countries in the region that were hit the most include Singapore, Malaysia, India, Thailand, and the Philippines, he said. He noted that users had enough time to update their software because the virus was detected as early as a year ago.