We recently saw the third anniversary of the Melissa virus, the first prominent example of the mass-mailing phenomenon which continues to haunt IT managers across the world.
The first virus to effectively spread at 'internet speed', Melissa crippled tens of thousands of messaging servers worldwide in a few hours and sent a security wake up call to corporates across the globe.
The question is, has world business learned the lesson from this type of attack? Or is the next big virus assault just around the corner?
Melissa was the first virus to inflict significant financial damage on businesses, costing an estimated $80m worldwide.
It was also one of the most widespread viruses and was followed by an abundance of similar malicious attacks which had even more serious financial implications for UK corporations.
It has, however, been some time since we saw an attack of this magnitude. The Goner virus, which struck in December, was the last to hit the headlines and cause IT managers any real problems. So have the antivirus vendors finally got it right?
It's true that vendors have been making massive advancements in technology to deal with the virus threat. Developments such as heuristic detection and policy management software all help corporates bolster their networks against security dangers.
Corporates are beginning to become wiser about enforcing policy throughout their business, and even end users are getting clever about the dangers of clicking on executable attachments or opening unsolicited email.
Many organisations block all emails with executable attachments at the firewall and the speedy distribution of software and software patches across the network instead of on CDs has also helped.
And an increasing number of customers are beginning to realise the benefits of outsourcing security to application service providers and managed service providers.
But the worrying fact is that there could be another Melissa tomorrow. The past six months have been comparatively quiet on the virus front. However, we know from viruses such as Code Red and Nimda that virus writers are getting more clever in working with blended threats and similarly complicated methods of attack that work around our traditional defences.
Virus writers are also honing the social engineering tricks they employ to encourage people to open attachments.
In addition, every time we see new technologies emerge, or a new method of sharing a file, someone will come up with a new way to attack computer systems.
Too many new technologies evolve without any consideration for the security risks. And many businesses are still more concerned with the ease of access to data without thinking about whether that data can be compromised.
There is no one-stop shop solution for businesses. No vendor can provide a piece of software and say that, once this is bolted onto your network, you won't fall victim to attack.
Customers need to look at what type of security is most suitable for their needs and employ it. For example, many small to medium sized businesses should look towards outsourcing their security and taking the management headache out of their hands and into the hands of the experts.
Education has got better but can still be improved. Users need to be constantly made aware that they can't relax simply because they haven't fallen victim to a virus for a month or two.
Businesses also need to be sure to employ heuristic and management tools in their antivirus software to help block suspicious emails at the gateway.
Email-borne viruses will continue to be prevalent and continue to cause headaches for IT managers. It's down to the antivirus vendors to keep developing the software to ensure they stay ahead of the game.
A virus of the magnitude of Melissa has not been seen for over six months, but that's no reason to be complacent. There will always be new threats on the horizon and businesses need to remain aware of the fact.
It's the companies that constantly re-evaluate processes and security to ensure that they have the best defences in place that stay in business.
Companies will go out of business if they only look at these factors once they've suffered an attack.
Although it seems to be a case of 'all quiet on the virus front' for the time being, IT managers need to keep security at the top of their agenda, because the next Melissa will be here soon.
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