It's official: 2004 is year of the virus

It is officially the year of the virus, with a 21 percent increase in new viruses discovered in Australia in the first six months of 2004 compared to the last year.

Nearly 4700 completely new viruses were discovered in the wild in 2004.

However, all is not lost - Australians have quickly adopted myriad antivirus techniques and remained online, profitable and more importantly, patched.

The Sasser worm was chiefly responsible for most of the attention and accounted for more than 25 percent of all viruses reported to Sophos this year, despite the fact the worm only appeared three months ago.

The catfight between Bagle and Netsky authors resulted in six of the most destructive viruses being unleashed into the wild.

In Australia during the first six months of 2004 the W/32Sasser virus was responsible for 26.1 percent of all viruses found by Sophos. Next was Netsky-P at 21.4 percent, Netsky-B with 11 percent and Netsky-D at 6.8 percent. MyDoom-A accounted for 4.4 percent, Zafi-B 4 percent, Netsky-Z 3.1 percent, Netsky-C with 2.4 percent, Sober-C at 1.5 percent and lastly, and one of the more dated versions of Bagle, Bagle A at 1.2 percent.

According to Sean Richmond, Sophos technical services manager, the threat to users from viruses has not increased but detection has.

"Over the course of the year the curve did get a bit steeper, but has been reasonably linear since January 1996. Historically, the way things go, a 21 percent increase is reasonable growth but a lot of it is viruses that most people are unlikely to see," he said.

Richmond said most increases in 2004 have been from mass-mailing Trojans, suggesting that the reason the Australian figures are so high is because the number of variants have made the detection figures quite large. However, the adoption of antivirus programs by home users and companies has kept most viruses under control.

"There does seem to be an increase in detected viruses, but the awareness and response is now proactive and part of normal business to include antivirus filtering to end users," Richmond said.

"When the Blaster virus first came out, the impact was enormous; the Sasser virus was almost a replica yet after a few days in Australia most users had things under control.

"Even if they hadn't patched they had the necessary antivirus software in place which shows that people, end users and companies are responsible, much better informed today and more importantly don't panic when they hear a virus has been released."

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