ENN Year in Review 2004: Virus Wars

    Date30 Dec 2004
    Posted ByBrittany Day
    Malware used to be easy to detect and avoid. Virus writers would attach a malicious programme to an e-mail and distribute it as widely as possible. If any of the recipients opened the attachment, the virus could delete system and data files, search for confidential information and propagate itself on the local network. In those simple days, viruses were like vampires -- as long as you didn't invite them in, they couldn't do you any harm. If you refrained from opening e-mail attachments from strangers, then you were safe.

    It's not that there has been any decrease in Nosferatu-type attacks in 2004. In fact, the number of e-mail borne viruses has continued to increase. According to MessageLabs, which keeps monthly statistics on the subject, one in sixteen e-mails carries a virus. The figures for Ireland are even more depressing, with one in 12 e-mails arriving in the average inbox carrying malware.

    But as the malware industry develops, the creators of viruses have found new ways to encourage users to participate in their own destruction. In particular, the incidence of the identity theft scam known as "phishing" has exploded over the past twelve months.

    With this scam, fraudsters send e-mails to users, purporting to be from their bank or e-mail provider. The user is requested to visit a website at which they will be asked to provide confidential bank account or credit card information, which is then misappropriated by the fraudsters.

    In September 2003, MessageLabs intercepted only 279 phishing e-mails. In November of 2004, the company intercepted more than two million and has intercepted more than 18 million over the course of the year. The company has also noted a new form of phishing e-mail, which is designed to capture online banking details when a user opens a mail, rather than when the user clicks on the URL links within the message.
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