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Conficker infections have been detected in more than 80 countries with Spain, the USA, Taiwan and Brazil most hit, according to anti-virus firm Panda Security. One in 14 (six per cent) of 2m machines submitted to Panda’s online scanner are affected by the worm. This, of course, represents a sample of PCs where the owners have reason to think something might be wrong and so may not be representative of the internet at large. Nonetheless, it’s a huge figure.

The worm is confirmed to have hit a Sheffield hospital and is suspected of infecting UK Ministry of Defence systems, including local area networks on warships. Security watchers reckon that the more open nature of public-facing organisations explains why these attacks have hit the press. There’s no reason to suspect that private sector firms are any better protected against such attacks, as previous worm spreads have demonstrated time and again.

Few clues have emerged as to the identity of the authors of the worm. Sometimes code samples used by an item of malware bear the hallmarks of a particular virus writing gang, but no such evidence has materialised over the Conficker worm as yet. One of the few pointers is an observation by Panda Security that the infection originated in China a few weeks ago.

The Conficker worm is programmed to constantly update itself. The malware is designed to download new code onto infected machines through a large number of different and changing IP addresses, making it difficult to block.

“This is an indication that the worm authors are preparing to carry out a large scale attack in the near future using the infected machines,” said Dominic Hoskins, Country Manager, Panda Security UK.

Paul Wood, senior analyst at online security firm MessageLabs, which recently became part of Symantec, confirmed that Conficker is yet to be activated to send spam. “We’ve seen nothing directly from all these infections in terms of spam runs or denial of service attacks,” Wood told El Reg.

“The countries most affected by Conficker have a high percentage of pirated windows users, who may not be entitled to apply Microsoft’s patch. This could be a factor in the spread of the worm.” ®

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