Researchers predict virus avalanche

Prepare for more outbreaks than ever before, says British firm MessageLabs

Virus attacks may treble by the end of the year according to research from UK antivirus firm MessageLabs, which suggests that government departments as well as companies will collapse under the weight of malicious attachments and executables.

The research indicates that virus incidents will increase dramatically over the coming year. Within government offices, the number of virus incidents is set to rise 222 percent, with email use increasing just 62 percent by comparison.

A similarly worrying situation is also predicted for the commercial sector. The manufacturing industry can expect virus outbreaks to increase 234 percent with email use up only 124 percent and the media sector will see 219 percent more viruses this year with a 137 percent increase in email usage.

The figures are extrapolated from the increase in virus incidents that MessageLabs customers saw between January 2000 and February 2001. In this time MessageLabs says that it scanned more than 50 million email messages for viruses. "The figures are disturbing," says chief technical officer at MessageLabs Mark Sunner. "Although the use of email continues to flourish, and awareness of viruses increases, we aren't seeing a proportional rise in effective virus protection."

Many virus experts blame virus outbreaks on a lack of common sense among Internet users, but Sunner says that companies can't afford to rely on educating users. "It is unrealistic to expect employees to be wholly responsible for stopping viruses by updating antivirus software," he says. "The figures show that there are now just too many viruses and virus variants out there for traditional AV software to cope with," he says.

Graham Cluley, head of virus research at another UK antivirus software firm, Sophos, suggests that it may not be panic stations quite yet. "I think that predictions that it will mean the end of industry are pessimistic," he says. "I don't think there is any scientific evidence that the situation is going to get radically worse than it is now."

Cluley also says that users need to wise up to the threat posed by seemingly innocuous attachments and says that antivirus software on the desktop is often important because viruses may also arrive on a floppy disk or a CD.

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