Virus infection rates boosted by holiday e-mail backlog

Virus experts are warning that infection rates will increase in January as users pay less attention to security as they sift through a massive backlog of e-mails.Users are aware that one of the easiesy ways to become infected with a virus is by opening an attachment, but common sense can take second place when people come into work after a long holiday and find a few thousand unread e-mails, said Paul Ducklin, head of technology in Asia Pacific for antivirus firm Sophos.

Virus experts are warning that infection rates will increase in January as users pay less attention to security as they sift through a massive backlog of e-mails.

Users are aware that one of the easiesy ways to become infected with a virus is by opening an attachment, but common sense can take second place when people come into work after a long holiday and find a few thousand unread e-mails, said Paul Ducklin, head of technology in Asia Pacific for antivirus firm Sophos.

"Lots of Aussies have been on their summer hols recently and many return to work this week to face a three-week e-mail backlog. It's easy to let your guard down or to become careless when you have a lot of email to catch up on, especially when some of those e-mails are genuine Christmas greetings from friends or family," said Ducklin.

Allan Bell, marketing director for McAfee in the Asia Pacific region, agrees that the backlog will make people careless, but he also points out that many users who have taken their laptops home for the holidays are likely to return to work with some unexpected surprises on their hard drive.

"When people are on leave their browsing habits tend to be different and they are more likely to check out the online gambling Web sites or the darker side of the Internet. Often they end up with some spyware on their machine, which could include Trojans that capture keystrokes or monitor the Web sites that person visits," said Bell.

Bell said that if the laptops are directly connected to the Internet, the corporate antivirus software will not automatically update, leaving the user vulnerable to new threats.

"If they happen to come across a brand new virus then they could be exposed," said Bell.

Browsing the Internet is one of the most common ways people's computers get infected with spyware, said Bell, who explained that although users are often told about the dangers of opening e-mail attachments, they are not educated on how to surf the Internet safely.

"People are being educated about e-mail but they have not been trained on the dangers of browsing the Internet. They don't think about malicious code that could be embedded into Web pages," said Bell.

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