Feeds

The strange decline of computer worms

Bots, IM and email attacks in the new world of malware

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Computer worms are becoming less commonplace as virus writers diversify their malware spreading tactics to create the maximum effect for the least possible effort. Email-borne worms, such as NetSky, Bagle and Sober, remain perennial favourites with malware authors but Slammer-style worms are becoming rarer, according to anti-virus firm F-Secure.

Mikko Hyppönen, director of anti-virus research at F-Secure, said that with the single exception of the Santy worm (which targeted vulnerable PHP installations) little new has been seen of computer worms since the May 2004 outbreak of Sasser. The hiatus follows a string of high-profile worm outbreaks including Blaster, Nimda, Slammer, Welchi and Code Red over recent years. The decrease in computer worms noted by F-Secure ironically comes at the same time many vendors, such as HP, Cisco, Check Point and others, are aggressively marketing worm-throttling technology.

One explanation for the dip in computer worms is that the widespread use of XP SP2 and greater use of personal firewall had rendered worms far less potent in the same way that boot sector viruses died out with Windows 95 and the introduction of Office 2000 made macro viruses far less common. Thwarted worm attacks could be explained by security improvements but Hyppönen notes that virus writers have not even attempted to spread computer worms over recent months. Computer worms exploit software vulnerabilities to spread automatically and are technically more difficult to write than other types of malware. Hyppönen reckons this factor might have a lot to do with explaining their relative decline.

Whilst standard computer worms have experienced a relative decline, email worms have remained a problem and instant message security threats are becoming a greater concern. "A worm that exploited an IM vulnerability to spread could spread very quickly and travel straight through firewalls," Hyppönen warned. Spyware, Trojans and other types of software that turn PCs into zombie drones in botnets, and the increased sophistication of viruses capable of infecting mobile phones also remain key security concerns. F-Secure recently released a free toolkit designed to root out 'stealth' software that can hide malicious programs from conventional anti-virus and anti-spyware packages, a tactic adopted in the Invisible Keylogging spyware package and viruses such as Maslan and Padodor that F-Secure expects will become increasingly common over time.

Hyppönen made his comments during the Websec 2005 Conference in London on Thursday 17 March. ®

Related stories

MMS virus discovered
Santy worm defaces thousands of sites
Windows worms tax ISPs
Sasser worm creates havoc
Blaster rewrites Windows worm rules

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
Google recommends pronounceable passwords
Super Chrome goes into battle with Mr Mxyzptlk
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
Reddit wipes clean leaked celeb nudie pics, tells users to zip it
Now we've had all THAT TRAFFIC, we 'deplore' this theft
YouTube, Amazon and Yahoo! caught in malvertising mess
Cisco says 'Kyle and Stan' attack is spreading through compromised ad networks
TorrentLocker unpicked: Crypto coding shocker defeats extortionists
Lousy XOR opens door into which victims can shove a foot
Greater dev access to iOS 8 will put us AT RISK from HACKERS
Knocking holes in Apple's walled garden could backfire, says securo-chap
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.