IF YOU think computer viruses are a bit of a media and vendor beat up then you should take a look at the US National Computer Security Association's (NCSA) major new survey into virus attacks in North America.
The 30-page report - the result of a large survey carried out in the last few months -shows that almost every major organisation in America has now experienced a virus infection.
More horrifyingly, 90 per cent of larger enterprises now report at least one virus encounter or incident every month.
This is more than four times higher than the incident rate for the whole of 1994. The infection rate actually grew by a whopping 8 per cent between January and February of this year alone.
There is no reason to imagine the situation is any better in Australia, where our IT environment is almost a mirror image of the US.
The likelihood of just encountering (as opposed to catching) a virus has grown by an order of magnitude in the 12 months to early 1996.
The survey of 300 major sites across North America represented an examination of virus impact on more than 700,000 PCs and 15,600 servers.
Almost a third of these businesses reported at least one incident in the last 14 months where a minimum of 25 PCs, diskettes or files were infected by the same virus at the same time.
Sixty-three viruses were identified during this time but the big daddy is the fast spreading Word Concept virus which probably did not exist before July last year.
Word Concept - also called WinWord Concept, Word Macro or Prank - has grown so fast, it was responsible for almost half of all virus encounters by January and February of this year.
Others in the Top 10 were Form (15 per cent), Stealth (10 per cent), Anti EXE, Monkey, Stoned, Anti CMOS, NATAS, NYB and Michelangelo whose growth has been rapidly overtaken by Form and Word Concept over the last year.
Form actually grew about three-fold over the survey period but was still easily overtaken by the much younger Word Concept, which by early this year was growing three times faster than its nearest competitor.
Virus attacks also caused quite devastating impact when they struck, respondents told the NCSA in a survey that was sponsored by Cheyenne Software in the US.
More than 80 per cent of attacks caused lost productivity and respondents are now reporting for the first time that they believe jobs are threatened when a virus strikes.
The NCSA estimates 75 jobs a year are threatened by viruses. Watch this number grow dramatically in the next survey.
The average incident now causes 10 person-days of lost time and is estimated to cost about $A10,000, although one site reported costs in excess of $125,000. Researchers believe these numbers are probably understated because the full impact of lost business, productivity and downtime is probably not well measured.
The number of servers infected by an "average" Word Concept virus attack is 11.2, which means 400 connected PCs were probably impacted in some way by each incident.
Virus attacks occurred across the Internet via e-mail attachment about 10 per cent of the time and this means of infection is predicted to grow quickly. But the old faithful "diskette from home" is still the most common way of introducing viruses to big companies.
Other common means of infection included "Don't Know" (15 per cent), downloads from bulletin boards and other online services (10 per cent), demonstration diskettes and even shrink-wrapped software, which was responsible for about one infection in 50.
Although the deployment of antivirus desktop software was quite high - as you would expect in these very large organisations - only about a third of organisations had their virus protection software turned on full-time.
Server protection was even worse with almost four organisations in 10 reporting no protection at all.
Intriguingly, the solution to all this mayhem is quite conveniently at hand. Businesses and users can protect themselves from every virus known to infect a computer by using antivirus software full time and keeping it up to date.
Tel: (02) 9959 1944 Fax: (02) 9959 1983