Happy holidays, your PC's dead

Happy holidays, your PC's dead

The millennium is quickly approaching. Does this mean you should brace yourself for an avalanche of nasty new PC viruses and worms?

Computer virus researchers have been considering that possibility over the past few months, and the appearance of three major new viruses in the past couple of weeks could point to some doomsday predictions coming true. But the experts are adopting a wait-and-see approach.

As always, they start by advising users to keep their antivirus software up to date.

You need a "common-sense view," says Roger Thompson, technical director of malicious code research for The International Computer Security Association, or ICSA (an independent organisation that certifies antivirus and security software), which includes updating your antivirus protection.

Thompson says that he's "seeing vendor hype". Because of media coverage, both corporate and individual users are aware of the potential threats; but he says virus writers may wait until after the first of the year, when users start to breathe a sigh of relief and let their guard down.

He underlines that users should be on the lookout for "hype and hoaxes" over the next few weeks.

Vincent Weafer, director of Symantec's Antivirus Research Center (SARC), agrees that virus activity may become even more widespread after January 1. But he's still "worried about now". Although most major corporations are well prepared for virus outbreaks, that's not the case in many small businesses, where often not all PCs on a network are protected. And many of the most prevalent viruses spread quickly through interconnected PCs.

Meanwhile, GartnerGroup's Joe Sweeney chimed into the debate last week, claiming Australian corporate help desks will be overburdened and over budget if they are unprepared for an expected increase in e-mail viruses.

Sweeney said companies in the Asia-Pacific region have an increased like-lihood of being infected by e-mail viruses because of the high use of pirated virus software and slack corporate e-mail policies.

While a majority of companies have adequate virus protection at the desktop and network levels, Sweeney said many still need to improve the quality of virus scanning at the corporate gateway.

E-mail viruses, such as the ExploreZip, or MiniZip virus, and Worm.Mypic or W32/MyPics.wor which have already infected many Australian companies, are known as "Trojan" viruses, because they enter computers as e-mail attachments, usually as executable files.

The MiniZip virus was compressed with an obscure compression system called Neolite, which was invisible to most antivirus security systems.

"Companies should be equipped to stop these viruses entering the enterprise in the first place. They have to ensure that they, and the companies they deal with, have legal and updated virus software, and they have to set up policies to deal with e-mail and invest in software to enforce those policies," Sweeney said.

"Companies should have stopped the MiniZip virus. This is not a technical issue, it is a policy issue."

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