Y2K virus threat real but overrated, says CA exec

End users face a threat from viruses deliberately written to activate at the year 2000 rollover, but should not be at special risk if they continue with comprehensive antivirus practices.

Rumours of contract programmers tampering with code while doing remedial year 2000 work, or of a flood of 200,000 viruses to be released are largely hype, said Tony Lim, technical director of channels, Southeast Asia, at Computer Associates International's global technology services division.

"If companies take the right precautions then this shouldn't be a problem," Lim said. "The main danger is that end users are so focused on the year 2000 problems that they may let viruses slip by."

If companies discover a processing error around the rollover period, they should not automatically assume it is a year 2000 problem as it could be a virus disguising itself as a year 2000 glitch, Lim warned.

"We believe that there will be viruses which will make use of the year 2000 rollover to activate themselves, as virus creators know that they may be able to slip a virus through at that time," Lim said.

One virus already identified is the Kriz virus, which has a payload scheduled to activate on December 25 this year, Lim said.

The Kriz virus attacks portable executable Windows files with .EXE or .SCR extensions, and the Kernel32.DLL core library. When infecting any file the virus kills CMOS memory, overwrites data in all files on all available hard drives and then tries to destroy Flash BIOS by using the same routine as the CIH or Chernobyl virus, according to information from US antivirus company Data Fellows.

Viruses being spread through e-mail attachments have become the major source of infection this year, according to Lim. According to a survey carried out by the International Computer Security Association (ICSA), 56 per cent of infections this year were attributed to e-mail attachments compared to 32 per cent last year.

"These viruses pose an increased threat now that e-mail and internet use are such a necessary tool in day-to-day business," Lim said.