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Only 800 have ever infected anybody's computer

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A senior figure in the antivirus industry has spoken out against the misinformation and myths which surround computer viruses - many of which he said arise due to hype from vendors themselves.

David Perry, global director of education for Trend Micro, said the public harbour a number of common misconceptions about computer viruses, due in large part to overstated warnings about viruses from vendors and sensationalist reporting in the media.

Perry, who has spent 10 years in technical support, said: "The problem on help desks is only occasionally fixing the damage caused by computer viruses, it's mostly fixing problems caused by lack of understanding."

His argument is that rumour and innuendo, hoaxes and pop culture create a rich breeding ground for myths about viruses - such as the idea viruses are created by antivirus companies or are able to destroy hardware - that takes focus away from the real issues.

Perry's central point, made in a speech at the 10th Annual European Institute for Anti Virus Research (EICAR) conference in Munich this week, is that misinformed users can actually increase the likelihood of virus infestation, and more needs to be done close the gap between perceived and actual damage caused by viruses.

An example of this knowledge deficit, according to Perry, is that of the 30,000 to 50,000 computer viruses routinely quoted in figures from the antivirus industry, only 800 have ever infected anybody's computer and "only 200 are in circulation".

"The rest are 'zoo' viruses - which are emailed to antivirus companies by virus authors themselves and never make it into the wild," said Perry.

Perry, who himself admits to having over-hyped viruses in the past, said he re-examined his approach after warnings he made about the NewLove virus, a post Love Bug flop, failed to materialise. He argues virus firms need to be more cautious in issuing alerts - despite the temptation to cry wolf.

"The antivirus industry is fiercely competitive. There's millions of dollars to be made and lost and firms gets enormous communication value and mind share when they're quoted in reports of virus outbreaks in the press," said Perry. "The firms who tend to cry wolf are those who need coverage at a particular time, and after an alert is issued things tend to take on a life of their own." ®

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