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Opinion Shares in leading AV firms have risen strongly on the back of the chaos caused by the Sasser worm this week. Symantec shares stood at $49.04 last night up from $45.00 at close of business on Friday. Network Associates shares closed at $17.00 yesterday up from just under $16 at the start of the week.

Like the major worms before it (Blaster and Slammer), and prolific email viruses like SoBig and MyDoom, Sasser can be expected to result in increased sales of AV, hence the rush of investors towards security stocks this week. The sad fact is that the numerous companies hit by the Sasser worm got stung despite having AV scanner software and following recommendations from suppliers on keeping it up to date.

The problem is AV firms have no financial incentive to address this problem; in fact the reverse is probably closer to the truth. Put crudely, the worse a virus outbreak is the more AV firms stand to gain financially. The business model of the anti-virus industry - despite the many skilled and hard-working people within it - works against the interest of end-users.

So a different approach - rather than more of the same - is needed if the industry is to contain the computer virus problem, still looming large a good 20 years after the Morris Worm. The AV industry is notoriously conservative and has been slow to embrace alternative approaches which promise to offer users breathing space in the face of fast-spreading worms.

Host-based intrusion prevention (behaviour blocking) technologies and filtering out bad traffic before it hit the desktop. Even firms who use these techniques still need to patch vulnerable systems to defend against worms like Sasser, but they are in a lot better shape than firms that look to traditional AV scanning technology for protection.

There's always going to be a time lag between when a virus is released, when AV vendors receive it and write a signature update and when this update gets distributed and applied. Because of this companies can get hit even if they have the latest signature updates.

We can blame Microsoft for releasing vulnerable software and users for failing to apply patches but it's not unreasonable to hold AV vendors to their promise of protecting users against viruses and worms too. ®

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Sasser worm creates havoc
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AV bigwigs weigh in on Sobig debate
SecureWave revamps alternative to desktop AV
Worms spread faster, blended threats grow
The trouble with anti-virus
Calls to regulate failing AV industry

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