Computer users who have armed themselves with antivirus software to combat the threat of an outbreak of turn-of-the-century viruses can take heart - for now at least. The outbreak, the subject of widespread warnings, has turned out to be as much of a non-event as Y2K, with only negligible casualties.
The New Year saw relatively few new viruses, even though just a week earlier antivirus vendors were issuing warnings about especially harmful viruses that could be triggered by the rollover.
Now, the vendors appear to have changed their tune.
"There are no Y2K viruses spreading in the wild," said Motoaki Yamamura, senior program manager at Symantec's AntiVirus Research Center in California.
"You may have read press releases from various [antivirus software] vendors, but they are all simply hype and nothing more," he said. "There is no need to panic about any of those new Y2K viruses."
Trend Micro, which has been tracking millennium viruses, reported 14 new viruses over the millennium weekend, of which four have Y2K-associated trigger dates or messages.
"Our offices worldwide have received no large-scale virus outbreak report so far. Those Y2K viruses discovered are not considered a serious threat," said Nancy Ho, marketing communications manager at Trend Micro, who attributed the "peaceful" rollover to the growing tendency among users in general to take preventative measures. Ho noted that sales orders and inquiries received by Trend Micro Hong Kong in November and December 1999 were at least three times the number received during the same period last year.
"The viruses that have come to our attention are small- to medium-risk and they are under control," said Mandy Lee, sales and marketing manager at Symantec Hong Kong. "We had more regular updates on our virus lists from a few days before Christmas till now, but that's quite normal."
An official at Computer Associates, which last week dished out free copies of its antivirus software, Inoculate IT, said this might be the "calm before the storm," indicating that the holiday season passed without serious incident.
"There are generally two types of viruses: those out in the wild, and the others in the zoo," said Peter Kuo, CA's Taiwan-based marketing director. "We want to keep those in the zoo caged up or under control. Those in the wild account for 1 per cent of all existing viruses, so it's not yet a problem. But they still could be."
"We expected more [viruses], but it's been pretty quiet," added Peter Liu, vice president, field service group, for CA Asia. "But I believe this market is growing, because the number of viruses increases every day."
The Hong Kong Police Force, meanwhile, was not surprised at the lack of New Year's virus activity.
"Most companies are so vigilant about their computer systems at the moment. With system administrators looking very closely at any glitches or abnormalities in their systems, now is possibly the worst time that anybody could try to infect or attack a system, by hacking or by using computer viruses," explained Paul Jackson, senior inspector, Computer Crime Unit at the Hong Kong Police Force.
Jackson added that the pre-New Year antivirus frenzy may have been due to massive promotion of antivirus software and services.
"[Vendors] are bound to hype these things," he said. "Most of these companies are selling software or consultancy services, so you'll have to take what they say with a pinch of salt. They are in the business to raise awareness of possible threats."
The Police Force stressed, however, that the lack of computer crime reports over the festive season has not made it complacent. And Jackson does not discount future threats.
"It's difficult to give a 100 per cent [accurate] view on this, but I'm sure [in] the days to come we'll get a clearer picture. As companies go back to work, more problems might come to light, we don't know."
Jackson is encouraging sustained vigilance.
"If companies always have this amount of attention on their systems [as they've had with respect to the Y2K bug], it will be very difficult for hackers or people wanting to spread viruses to get away with it," he said.