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Internet at risk as virus attacks grow

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Stuart Millar, technology correspondent Saturday August 4, 2001 The Guardian

The internet is in danger of grinding to a halt if email-borne virus attacks continue to escalate, a leading computer security expert has warned. Alex Shipp, senior anti-virus technologist with the widely respected British firm, MessageLabs, said the global computer networks upon which the internet is based could be brought to a halt by the sheer volume of infected material circulating in cyberspace.

Mr Shipp also claimed that traditional desktop-based protection methods could no longer cope with the onslaught of new, rapidly propagating email-borne infections.

This public intervention from a senior frontline expert will increase concern about the significant rise in virus activity in recent months, and the growing technical sophistication of the people writing them.

Last week, US authorities issued dire warnings to computer users to protect their machines against the Code Red virus. The predictions of internet meltdown, however, failed to materialise.

Email-borne viruses account for more than 90% of outbreaks. Consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers say viruses could cost businesses more than $1.3 trillion (907bn) by the end of next year.

In the last fortnight, one email virus, SirCam, has risen from obscurity to become the most common, most sophisticated and most resilient virus in history. It is rampaging across millions of computers.

The number of emails infected by a virus being picked up by MessageLabs has risen above the one in 400 mark. When the company launched three years ago, the rate was about one in 1,500.

Mr Shipp blamed home users and small businesses. "All the emails we are stopping are from people using domestic internet providers like Hotmail and Freeserve. These are people who do not have the expertise to realise that their anti-virus protection is either non-existent or badly needs updating.

"They just can't keep up with the amount of stuff that is coming at them now."

But Ross Anderson, reader in security engineering at Cambridge university, said the blame for the growth in viruses should be aimed not at users, but at software companies who had failed to build adequate protection into their products.,7369,532170,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, August 04, 2001

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