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Heavy squalls of blended worms to hit next year

Windows malware sweeps 2003 viral charts

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Net users can expect a growth in attacks of Unix systems next year, not to mention more Blaster-style worms capable of infecting computers without using email.

The growing trend of virus writers and spammers apparently working together (evidenced by worms like Sobig and Mimail) can also be expected to continue into 2004, according to security firm Sophos, which predict little let up in mass-mailing viruses next year.

However, the UK-based anti-virus and anti-spam firm predicted that viruses infecting mobile devices will once again fail to pose much of a threat in 2004.

Top Net nuisances all Windows related

The Sobig-F worm was the subject of more support queries to Sophos during the year to date than any other pathogen. The prolific mass mailer accounted for one in five support calls to Sophos, pushing the Blaster worm (which attempted to knock a Microsoft Update site off the Net) into second place. Blaster was responsible for 15 per cent of Sophos' support calls. The Nachi worm, which promised to patch Blaster-infected machines, reached third spot in the chart after accounting for eight per cent of enquiries in the year to date.

All ten of the viruses in Sophos' chart infected only Windows PCs, a trend Sophos expects will continue into 2004. However, the knock-on effect of viruses proved a nuisance even for Windows refusenicks over the course of this year.

"Sobig-F accounted for a huge amount of email, which affected people on Mac and Unix machines even if they couldn't be infected with the virus. Viruses are becoming a spamming problem," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

Ironically, some of the people worst hit by Sobig-F were spammers, according to Sophos. The company saw a drop in the quantity of spam in August which it reckons was the direct result of Sobig-F slowing spammers mail systems down to a crawl.

VXers joining up with spammers?
Although they don't often make viral charts, the number of backdoor Trojans (like Sysbug) in circulation is on the rise. Spammers sometimes use this form of malware to commandeer computers and turn them into spam-sending drones.

Sophos estimates 30 per cent of spam comes from compromised PCs or servers, a figure which includes bulk email sent through insecure mail servers with open relays.

Cluley said viruses like Mimail-J and others showed an increasing desire for virus writers to grab financial info through their malicious code, a change in motive from the simple desire to cause as much havoc as possible. Gibe-F tried to con users into divulging email account information. Some viruses, like Mimail-L, attacked anti-spam organisations.

"It's unlikely that Mimail was written by someone in their back bedroom. People in the virus writing community are unlikely to think it's cool to attack anti-spam sites," said Cluley.

War report

Sophos is fond of talking about a war between spam and virus writers against users and security companies.

Cluley, while admitting that August 2003 (which saw the release of Blaster and Sobig-F) was a horrible month, was keen to fend off any suggestion that virus writers had the upper hand in this conflict.

"If firms stop executable code from coming into their networks they'll avoid most of the problem. Generally we're winning the war against the bad guys," Cluley claimed. ®

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