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Viruses which try to infect users through a variety of means, such as the infamous Nimda worm, and mass mailers are predicted to become even more of a problem for Internet users next year.

That's the prediction of anti-virus firm Sophos which has gazed into the crystal ball and come up with some predictions for the threats we'll see next year. Here they are:

  • Mass mailing Windows 32 viruses, such as Nimda and SirCam, to become even more common. Executables have been the most common type of virus reported to Sophos this year
  • More macro and script viruses, which are easy to write with virus writing toolkits
  • A increased incidence of Remote Access Trojans or Backdoor Trojan horses
  • An increase in attacks on Unix systems
  • More Code Red-style Internet worms directly targeting Web servers
  • Combined (or cocktail) attacks, where viruses combine different spreading techniques and payloads, to become more common
  • The risk that hype about viruses might blind users to possible problems ('virus fatigue')
  • But little likelihood, according to Sophos, that there will be "an avalanche of new viruses affecting mobile devices"

Apart from the risk from viruses on handhelds and smartphones, other antivirus vendors broadly agree with Sophos about coming risks. Symantec is placing particular emphasis on the risk of viruses which use hybrid modes of attack (e.g. attacking a firm both through infected email and its Web server) might pose in the future. A good example of this type of virus is Nimda.



Virus writers still sex-obsessed nerds not terrorists

Although viruses themselves are getting more sophisticated, virus writers are not. Sex continues to be a favourite method of tempting users into infection with the technique becoming, if anything, even more popular.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said virus writers are still predominantly males of between 14-24, who are looked down upon by hackers, even though the two groups are not as far apart as they used to be.

There's little evidence that terrorists are interested in developing viruses, which in any case make poor weapons, according to Cluley. Up to date anti-virus software and safe computing practices (such as not opening suspicious attachments, blocking dangerous file types and applying security patches) stop viruses dead in their tracks. It's also difficult to target viruses, Cluley points out. ®

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