Feeds

Lies, damned lies and anti-virus statistics

$13.2bn eaten by viruses

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Computer Economics has published its assessment of the damage worldwide caused by malicious code attacks in 2001 - the figure comes in at a whopping $13.2 billion.

This is 23 per cent less than 2000, the year of the Love Bug, when damages from viruses were estimated at $17.1bn. In 1999 the cost to the world was $12.1 billion in 1999, Computer Economics says.

The research firm has totted up the damage wreaked by viruses each year since 1995, But the results are controversial.

Critics in the antivirus industry dismiss Computer Economics assessment of the damage caused by the combined effects of Nimda ($635 million), Code Red variants ($2.62 billion), SirCam ($1.15 billion) et al last year as a "guesstimate".

They argue that it's hard to calculate the number of infected systems and the total damage caused during a virus outbreak, partly because costs will vary widely by company. Patching systems is, after all, a core part of the work of most sysadmins.

Michael Erbschloe, vice president of research at Computer Economics, angrily rejected criticisms of its methodology and said its work helped firms decide how to defend against viruses.

Erbschloe said Computer Economics does "everything we can to get an accurate number and great lengths to determine what the hit rate is". The $13.2 billion figure on the cost of infections in 2001 is "not an audit" but it is "accurate", although Erbschloe declined to say just how accurate it was.

Methodology

Computer Economics' methodology involves first conferring with anti-virus companies, governments, law enforcement and major firms, Erbschloe told us. It then tries to work out how many people received a virus and from that calculates how many were infected. From this, Computer Economics estimates the cost of patching systems and losses in worker productivity from dealing with a viral outbreak, based on benchmarking the cost of cleaning a computer of a virus.

One of the problems of this approach, explains Alex Shipp, chief antivirus technologist at managed services firm MessageLabs, is that "users are unable to estimate the damage a virus outbreak might cause their own company ... so how does a third party get a figure?"

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos Anti-Virus, described Computer Economics figures as a "guesstimate", supported by insufficient data.

"Most companies simply don't know how much a virus cost them," he said. "As well as lost productivity, viruses can also cost money through damaged credibility, effects on customer relations and attacks on confidentiality which is hard to estimate."

MessageLabs and Sophos say that Computer Economics has never contacted them about statistics on infections.

Even if a vendor tracks the percentage of infected emails it blocks (as MessageLabs does), or consumer PCs scanned which are infected (as McAfee does), it is very difficult to place a dollar figure on such data.

Erbschloe said he didn't care what Sophos or MessageLabs thought. He said AV vendors quote Computer Economics figures but disagree when an estimate is either higher or lower than suits them.

"Some of them are full of shit," Erbschloe told us, before calming down to say, "our figures help end-users decide how much to spend on antivirus".

Assessing the cost of virus infections isn't like counting server sales, and whoever you sympathise with here, it would be wise to take any figures with a grain of salt and to remember the AV industry has struggled with metrics for years. ®

External links

Computer Economics: Economic Impact of Malicious Code Attacks
versus
Hysteria roll call: Computer Economics, Inc.

Related stories

Code Red hysteria - $8.7bn in damage estimated
A plague on all our networks

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Knock Knock tool makes a joke of Mac AV
Yes, we know Macs 'don't get viruses', but when they do this code'll spot 'em
Feds seek potential 'second Snowden' gov doc leaker – report
Hang on, Ed wasn't here when we compiled THIS document
Why weasel words might not work for Whisper
CEO suspends editor but privacy questions remain
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
BlackEnergy crimeware coursing through US control systems
US CERT says three flavours of control kit are under attack
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
Protecting against web application threats using SSL
SSL encryption can protect server‐to‐server communications, client devices, cloud resources, and other endpoints in order to help prevent the risk of data loss and losing customer trust.