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Last month network security vendor Sophos released the results of its periodic virus activity survey: in the prior six months, the firm identified nearly 8,000 new Internet viruses, an increase of about 60% over the same period last year.
Sophos goes on to observe that it now takes 12 minutes before an unprotected, unpatched PC accrues a 50% chance of getting infected online. And as the virus writers saturate the Microsoft OS market, they’re moving increasingly into Mac, Linux and Unix systems.
In the hothouse ecosystem of the Internet, two viruses that have proved particularly “fit" from a Darwinian perspective are the Zafi-D and Sober-N worms. Zafi, appearing as an e-mail, tempts the unwary recipient to open an infective attachment (a sloppily-written Christmas greeting is favored), then commandeers the hapless PC into propagating more of the same. Zafi’s been in business for over 18 months, yet it still accounts for a quarter of all reported infections.
Sober lurks in file sharing networks, turning PC’s into zombies that spew out spam. Sober accounts for about 10% of all infections.
But the fastest-rising virus type is key-logging Trojans, now appearing three times more frequently than last year. Keyloggers track users’ keystrokes, the better to capture and pass on passwords, credit card data, etc.
This trend supports our theory that the ill-gained profit motive -- not merely juvenile hacking -- is driving this ever more intense virus rain. With real money now involved, we expect to see increasingly sophisticated virus production at the hands of criminal rings and even rogue states. A culmination of this trend would be efforts to disrupt large-scale commercial and government networks. Here’s hoping the White Hats have the resources and brains to keep up.
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