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Virus writers boost output in 2003

Mid-term report

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Virus writing over the first six months of this year has increased sharply.

Anti-virus firm Sophos has detected 3,855 new viruses in the first six months of 2003, up 17.5 per cent on the same period last year.

Since January 2003, the single most prevalent virus was the Bugbear-B worm, accounting for almost 12 per cent of reports to Sophos. The worm tops the chart even though it was first seen just a few weeks ago, in early June. Its older sibling, Bugbear-A, generated a further 2.5 per cent of enquiries.

For the first six months of 2003, the top ten viruses (as recorded in customer enquiries to Sophos's technical support department) are as follows:

  1. Bugbear-B
  2. Sobig-C
  3. Klez-H
  4. Sobig-B
  5. Sobig-A
  6. Avril-B
  7. Bugbear-A
  8. Avril-A
  9. Fizzer-A
  10. Yaha-E

Sophos reckons that the rise in virus writing activity shows that the UK's tough stance against convicted virus writers, like Simon Vallor who was jailed for two years this January, has failed to have much of a effect on the VX community as a whole.

Meanwhile virus writers are no longer relying on just email to propagate their malicious code. A combination of email, IRC (internet relay chat), network shares and/or P2P file sharing spreading methods is increasingly been applied to malicious code creation.

Some viruses used topical news stories and current events in an attempt to spread, Sophos notes. For instance, the Coronex worm disguised itself as information about the SARS biological virus, and the Ganda worm posed as secret spy photographs of the war in Iraq.

Neither of these worms caused widespread infections - unlike the SQL Slammer worm, which slowed down sections of the Net (particularly in South Korea) and rendered a small percentage of ATMs in the US inoperable immediately following its release in January.

But the short-lived Sobig worms, like Sobig-B which posed as a support email from Microsoft and its four sinister sibblings, have between them generated more support calls to Sophos than anything else.

Individually, Bugbear-B has generated more enquiries to Sophos than any other virus in the last six months.

"By morphing its contents every time it forwards itself - and by spoofing the email address of the person who sent the virus - Bugbear-B has been the most prevalent and irritating virus so far this year," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos Anti-Virus.

But why have the number of viruses written increased?

Cluley isn't exactly sure but he reckons that increased media attention, wider access to computers and the relatively low likelihood of being caught for virus writing offences are behind the upswing in virus writing activity this year.

"Virus writing - delinquent though it is - is become a more mainstream hobby," Cluley (half jokingly) told us. ®

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