Experts: End of e-mail viruses is nigh

Mass-mailing viruses are on their way out, some security execs say, and spyware is set to take their place as a key pest.

The end is coming for viruses sent by e-mail, security experts at a London conference predicted on Thursday, saying the problem has had its day.

The most severe issue Internet users now face is the growing problem of spyware, said some attendees at the Infosecurity Europe conference, noting that the malicious software is ready to fill the void.

Dan Hubbard, senior director of Websense Security Labs, told CNET's sister site that the number of e-mail-borne viruses is falling and will continue to do so. David Perry, global director of education at antivirus software maker Trend Micro, said these things come in ages and the age of e-mail viruses has simply come to an end.

Larry Bridwell, content security programs manager at ICSA Labs, added, "If you look at virus history, I liken it to the ocean. You stand by the ocean in California and see these great big waves coming in, getting bigger and bigger before they hit the shore. People are always going to surf each of those waves as it comes in."

"There's only so much you can do with e-mail. The problem people face now in using that to carry out any criminal act is that we know how e-mail works and we know how to stop it," he said.

Bridwell warned the problem of malicious code in other forms won't go away. "These waves don't die, that water goes back out into the ocean, and people will surf in on the next big wave."

Many at this week's Infosecurity Europe said they believed that spyware is the next wave. Pete Simpson, ThreatLab manager at Clearswift, said, "Spyware definitely seems to be the theme of the show."

But Simpson is not convinced the end of the e-mail virus has come just yet. "It's difficult to say whether it's not just a lull," he said. "We've certainly seen a stop in the large numbers."

Bridwell said he believes there will always be those at the cruder end of the cybercrime spectrum who try to keep "the art" alive. "As long as young boys are spraying graffiti on the (London Underground), there will also be people trying to send e-mail viruses," he said.

Will Sturgeon of reported from London.