Flashy love bug pipped by creepy Kak-turtle

Throughout 2000, hackers have seemed intent on exploiting the emotional side of human nature. Malicious applications tunnelled through the World Wide Web with sneaky subject headers hinting of secret admirers, holiday greetings and even love.

But if you have bets on which virus wreaked the most havoc, you may be taken aback by an upcoming report. UK-based antivirus software vendor Sophos will shortly release a list of the top ten most insidious viruses of 2000 and expects the list to generate some surprise.

The Love Bug or LoveLetter virus attacked in May with numerous users falling victim to its "I Love You" or "Love Letter" subject headers. People hoping to find emotional bliss were quite surprised when the virus made its way through e-mail address books deleting the files of friends, family and co-workers. The conniving code did billions of dollars in damages and left a bitter taste in users' mouths throughout the year.

Sophos, however, said the LoveLetter virus only made the number two spot on its top ten list.

The most devastating virus of the year was Kakworm, according to Sophos. The virus appeared in January and remained one of the top three most prevalent viruses in existence in each month of the year.

"Love Bug was a shooting star -lots of action and noise and fury for a relatively short time," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "Meanwhile, Kakworm has crept stealthily to the top of the charts."

Kakworm accounted for 17 per cent of all the calls made to Sophos' help desk throughout the year. The virus attacks users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Outlook software. While Microsoft created a patch to try and slow the virus down, Sophos said many users still failed to upgrade their antivirus software and so inadvertently helped Kakworm gain the lion's share of damage throughout the year.

The Navidad virus also made the year's hot list with a late holiday run. Posing as an electronic Christmas card, the virus attacks a user's computer only to leave a nasty holiday surprise. Navidad did not start spreading until November but still managed to steal spot number seven on the Sophos top ten list.

Sophos charges that antivirus vendors tend to hype up the prevalence of viruses in order to advance the case for users buying their software to stave off virus attacks. In many cases, a low-threat virus manages to receive more publicity than it might actually warrant.

Sophos said this may be one reason why some lesser known applications appeared to have caused the most difficulties.

Here's the complete list of top ten viruses for the year ranked by the number of complaints Sophos received:

* Kakworm at 17 per cent

* LoveLetter at 14.5 per cent

* Apology-B at 8.9 per cent

* Marker at 6.5 per cent

* Pretty at 5.6 per cent

* Stages-A at 3.5 per cent

* Navidad at 3.4 per cent

* Ska-Happy99 at 2.3 per cent

* WM97/Thus at 2.1 per cent

* XM97/Jini at 2.0 per cent

The "other" category contributed to another 34.2 per cent of viruses reported. W

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