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Sophos rebuffs virus-spreading charge

McAfee software thought rival's alert was the Homepage worm

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Antivirus vendor Sophos has been forced to deny spreading viruses itself after the virus scanner of rival McAfee flagged up an alert as a copy of the Homepage virus.

Sophos said that some versions of McAfee's VirusScan issued the false alarm because its write up of the Homepage virus used the phrase "VBSWG", the name of the toolkit used to create the virus, and quoted a filename with a double extension.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos, said that McAfee customers who subscribed to the Sophos alert service received an email suggesting Sophos had sent them a copy of the Homepage virus.

He blamed "over sensitivity" in the automatic detection of viruses (or heuristics) that features in McAfee's products.

Jack Clark, European product manager at Network Associates, McAfee's parent company, dismissed the issue as a storm in a teacup that affected few people.

He said that heuristic and generic detection were effective and pointed out that McAfee scanners blocked the Homepage worm without an update to antivirus definition files other vendors' products needed for detection.

"If you take the Sophos approach you've got to wake people up, develop a driver and distribute it," said Clark. "You can push it too far and get false positives but heuristics allow you to identify viruses written with the same toolkit. Sophos is only criticising the technology because they don't have it themselves." ®

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