This week, Jack Clark, European antivirus product manager at Network Associates, looks at the emerging trends of virus breeds.
While virus writers have always preyed on human nature, promising love letters or photos of Anna Kournikova to make people open attachments, there is a move afoot to prey on a far more emotional topic.
Is the political virus set to be the next big threat? Viruses have gone through a great evolution in the last few years. A new breed of writer has emerged, focused on tapping into and exploiting individuals' natural curiosity for very emotional issues in their desire to cause chaos.
Only two weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon shocked the world, the online community was the next to suffer.
A virus was launched on an unsuspecting public, hungry for any information relating to a terrible tragedy that they felt emotionally a part of.
The virus, W32/[email protected], ran under the guise of news on America's conflict with Islam. It contained malicious code that deleted files and attempted to eliminate the system's antivirus protection software.
And the hook to persuade an unsuspecting audience to open it? Quite simply, details of a new peace agreement between America and Islam.
This virus was not particularly hard-hitting in terms of the impact it had on the business community, or the amount of downtime it invoked. This threat was designed to cause problems by the sheer numbers expected to open the attachment, as they played on individuals' interests in a highly topical and emotional issue.
The PWS-Septer virus from October was next. When opened, this Trojan displayed a bogus window encouraging its victim to hand over their credit card details to the American Red Cross in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster.
It may have been low risk, but it was a concept destined to evoke a response from whoever received it. It would therefore appear that virus writers are sinking to new depths in their attempts to cause mass chaos in the online community.
There are no limits to what tools they will use to persuade an unsuspecting public to look at mails, open files and potentially become infected.
It is now just a matter of time before virus writers create more sophisticated Nimda cocktail type viruses and team them with a highly emotive topic to illicit a high level of interest from the public resulting in a high level of destruction among users.
Why has this come about and why do writers seem to be stooping to new levels in order to ensure their code is executed? Quite simply that whatever area of technology you work in there are always new challenges needed and virus writers are no exception to this rule.
Having executed a diversity of viruses in different ways, causing a variety of damage, it now seems that virus writers are using more psychological tactics to find ways into online communities, as more antivirus software is installed as standard.
The next six months will be challenging for the antivirus community as it tries to help companies deal with this fresh breed of viruses.
Once again the right software to fight these attacks is essential, but still only represents one piece of the armoury. Without rules, regulations and, most importantly, education for recipients, companies will continue to become infected and disrupted if only for a short while.
It is the responsibility of companies to tackle these issues directly and internally. Relying on constantly updated antivirus software is not enough in isolation. Employees need constant reminders of why attachments or emails with peculiar subject lines should not be opened.
They need to be educated as to the consequences of viruses for the organisation and the fact that virus writers are looking to target and exploit their emotions.
Virus writers have the skill, intelligence and desire to take viruses into the next stage of their evolutionary process and have no qualms about leaping on the latest political bandwagon, regardless of bad taste.
Antivirus software can play no role in the human element of this problem, and it is up to each internet user to make sure that common sense prevails over curiosity.
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