New antivirus engine breaks Windows viruses

Symantec is adding new Striker32 technology to all Norton AntiVirus programs as a weapon in its ongoing battle with busy virus writers. The new engine, which became available free of charge last Thursday to any user updating Norton AntiVirus online, locates tricky 32-bit, Windows-based viruses.

Windows has been the target of a huge upsurge of viruses, notes Steve Trilling, director of research at the Symantec AntiVirus Research Center. Striker32 should help protect against complicated troublemakers such as the W32.Bolzano virus and its variants.

Old DOS-based viruses weren't very adept at hiding themselves, which made them easy for virus-hunting programs to spot. The newest Windows-based viruses are not as simple.

"The difficulty of Windows viruses is they can hide anywhere in a program," Trilling says. Striker32 "follows links through the program looking for a virus inside it".

Striker32 not only detects known Windows viruses, but also gives Symantec's engineers more tools to fight new ones, he adds. When current NAV software detects an unclassified virus, it contains it and sends the suspicious file over the Internet to Symantec for examination.

Symantec made it easy for its customers to update to Striker32 by distributing it through the normal Internet update routine, Trilling says. Once downloaded, Striker32 interacts with NAV's core, called NAVEX, to make the necessary modifications. NAVEX has been in all Norton AntiVirus products since 1996.

Virus-hunt leapfrog

Symantec arch-rival McAfee, a division of Network Associates Inc., says 32-bit Windows virus detection is nothing new.

Both VirusScan, McAfee's antivirus software, and McAfee.com use the company's Olympus scanning engine, which can detect 32-bit Windows viruses (including the W32.Bolzano virus and its variants), according to Vincent Gullotto, director of McAfee's Anti-Virus Response Team labs.

The Olympus engine has multiple modules that can detect viruses on any platform, including Linux, Windows and UNIX, Gullotto says.

"Most Win-32 viruses are programs," Gullotto says. "[The engine] looks for suspicious program behaviour."

Both McAfee and Symantec officials urge users to update their antivirus software frequently to stay current with new virus definitions, as well as new features like Striker32.

Norton AntiVirus users can update over the Internet by clicking the LiveUpdate button. NAV comes with one year of free access to LiveUpdate. However, most users buy a product update to get the new features before their year is up, Trilling says.

Symantec staff looks at 10 to 15 new viruses every day, and posts antivirus updates for users to download at least once a week.

"We see enough viruses each week to recommend [updates] every week," Trilling says. Users who can't remember to update manually should set the program to do so automatically. Failing to update leaves your system unprotected.

"There are too many threats and just one can bring down your system," Trilling says.

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Tom Mainelli

PC World
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