Local jump in viruses spawned: report

The number of virus attacks originating in Australia leaped last year, putting it among the top five countries for virus generation, a new report claims.

Australia jumped from 14th to 5th, according to the Symantec Internet Security Threat Report for the last six months of 2003. This puts us behind virus leaders the US, then Canada, China and Japan.

This period included the discovery last August of three worms that became widespread: Blaster, Welchia, and Sobig.F, according to the report.

The US far outstripped all countries by accounting for 58 per cent of all viruses. Second-placed Canada had 8 per cent. The chart climber was Australia, up 2 per cent on the previous report to 3 per cent.

The table of originating countries was determined by the last known source of a virus, or its IP address. However, this location was not always responsible for the virus's creation, according to the report, as virus writers commonly send malicious code via compromised systems to hide their location.

As such, this was not evidence that Australia was becoming a larger source of viruses, according to the vendor.

"It's the clicking of e-mail attachments to forward viruses that's the cause [of Australia's rise]," said Symantec Australia managing director John Donovan.

His view was supported by another of the report's findings that of the top 10 virus originators, the country with the highest ratio of viruses targeting its own region was Australia. Australia recorded a ratio of 6.8 for attacks on its own (Asia-Pacific) region. Even the US did not exceed 3.0 for both North and South America.

The rise of socially engineered code, such as the mydoom and klez viruses, had contributed to this, said Donovan.

The low level of broadband penetration in Australia may also have contributed to the increase, he said. Broadband users are commonly advised to use a firewall, so countries where broadband take-up is high are more likely to have more security devices such as firewalls installed than Australia.

Per Internet capita, Australia had shot from 59th in the previous report to become the 10th top virus-generating country, with 4251 attacks per 100,000 users. Canada led this category with 8285, followed by Kuwait. Per Internet capita is a measure of the number of attacks launched from that country per 100,000 Internet users.

The report also found that 2636 vulnerabilities were discovered in 2003, an average of seven per day. Seventy per cent of these were classified as "easy to exploit".