Rampaging Word 97 macro virus Melissa is certain to boost the worldwide anti-virus market revenue well beyond current predictions, which say the market will be worth $3 billion by 2002.
In a recent report, IT researchers IDC said that the anti-virus software market is now the largest sector of the overall Internet security market.
The survey also showed that virus attacks are extremely costly to organisations in terms of lost productivity and downtime, as many IT managers across the globe will be all too aware of following the havoc caused by the Melissa virus.
This, and subsequent variants, spread rapidly over the last few days by taking advantage of features inside Windows to email large numbers of addresses at a time.
The productivity cost of virus strikes is alone enought to send IT managers scurrying to their local software supplier. IDC said that on average, each company taking part in the survey reported 81 incidents of virus infection in a 12 month period.
Typically the viruses affect around 12 per cent of all users and each user spends just over an hour reparing the problem and damage. IT staff members themselves spend around 79.1 minutes on each viral infection.
More than 100,000 organisations worldwide were hit by Melissa virus over the last few days, resulting in many companies actually shutting down their entire mail systems to tackle the problem.
Microsoft, Intel and Lucent all closed their mail systems down as the virus spread rapidly throughout the US over the weekend and reached Europe in strength on Monday.
According to Alex Shipp, virus technologist at Internet service company Star, thousands of UK companies were affected by Melissa yesterday.
"We had around 135 instances yesterday. However, today we've had only three. This would suggest that many companies have shut down their mail servers to deal with the problem."
In the US, authorities were so worried about the proliferation of the virus that FBI division, the National Infrastructure Protection Centre (NIPC) issued an official warning.
NIPC director Michael Vatis commented: "Email users have the ability to significantly change the outcome of this incident. I urge email users to exercise caution when reading their email for the next few days and to bring unusual messages to the attention of their system administrator, " he said.
"The transmission of a virus is a criminal matter, and the FBI is investigating." However, the FBI does not appear to have found the virus' author, although it has a number of virus writer pseudonyms it suspects may be the culprit.
Ian Whalley, senior programmer at UK anti virus vendor Sophos said that the FBI has discovered which AOL account the virus was sent out from.
"The owner of the account was questioned by the FBI and it is probably not him. It is more likely that someone borrowed his account after stealing his password."
Whalley added that although virus writers typically find it very difficult to keep quiet about their antics, they almost always use alternative names and are very hard to trace.
"I can imagine there's a lot of companies wanting a comeback on this," said Whalley.
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