Millennium virus threat isn't over yet

Virus damage possible this week, as people return from holiday and switch on

There may not yet have been any millennium bug-related virus outbreaks, but that doesn't mean the danger has passed, according to virus-savvy Internet service provider Star Internet.

Star Internet predicts that once email traffic picks up in the New Year as many people return to work, the threat of new viruses is likely to increase exponentially.

Anti-virus researcher at Star Internet Alex Shipp foresees the coming week as crunch time: "There could be substantial damage this week, as viruses lurking in computers are unleashed when people return from holiday and switch on. For many virus writers, this could still provide a historical trigger date when they can gain maximum exposure and catch out network managers who are concentrating on a number of other potential scenarios and ongoing project work."

Star Internet has also revealed that a record 2,590 different viruses were caught by its servers in the month of December alone.

Anti-virus company Trend Micro also reports discovering 14 new computer viruses in the wild over the New Year period.

Trend Micro says that its World Virus Tracking Centre, which has been monitoring computer systems for evidence of Y2K-related virus activity since 15 December, recorded the appearance of 14 new viruses "in the wild" over the millennium weekend, four of which were set to trigger on New Years day.

Among the new viruses discovered in the wild by Trend Micro is the notorious Bubbleboy, which attracted considerable attention before even being released because it is the first computer virus that does not require a user to click on an attachment in order to activate it. Other new strains of computer virus include Chantal.B, a destructive Word macro; Zelu, a Trojan horse program pretending to be a Y2K fix; and a virus named Crypto that attempts to encrypt itself in order to evade detection.

Trend also reports that 4,000 of the computers that visited its Web sites and used its free Housecall virus-checking software were infected with computer viruses.

However Aled Miles, managing director of Symantec Anti-Virus for the UK and Ireland, warns against getting carried away about the threat of new viruses. "Most of these viruses were rare and weren't horrendously threatening. It feels like activity has been relatively quiet in terms of major incidents."

Miles also believes that the lack of a major epidemic is evidence of good preparation more than anything else: "People were prepared, updating their systems and software... [they] have been taking good precautions."

Further details on new viruses and updates for Trend's anti-virus software can be found at www.y2kvirus.com.

Although Trend Micro does not consider any of these viruses to currently pose a serious threat to computer users, it recommends extra vigilance when downloading files from the Internet and opening email attachments.

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