Record numbers of new virus types broke out last year, but old friends the macro viruses remained the number one threat.
According to research from virus company Sophos, seven major new virus types were discovered in the wild over the last 12 months. The most interesting and possibly the most dangerous discovery, the company said, was CIH, the first hardware attacking virus.
Although it did not appear until June, CIH was the eighth most reported virus of 1998. Along with Marburg, CIH also marked the resurgence of parasitic viruses which spread by attaching themselves to .EXE program files.
Other viruses proved over hyped. ?Strange Brew?, the first virus to infect Java applications, appeared in August. It caused a flurry of concern, which, according to Sophos, was largely unfounded because the virus affects Java applications and cannot spread via Web based Java.
Microsoft Office 97 was a major target for virus writers in 1998 with the appearance of three new virus types. April saw the first Access virus, while ?Strangedays? and ?Shiver? marked the first cross infectors - able to contaminate both Word and Excel files with the same code.
The last major component of the Office 97 suite fell victim to attack right at the end of the year in December, with the emergence of PM97/Attach, a virus which affects Powerpoint.
Even Windows NT was not immune. In December ?Remote Explorer? appeared, the first virus which is able to run as an NT service.
Paul Ducklin, head of research at Sophos commented: ?The number of new virus types emerging has made 1998 a very interesting year. Whilst keeping abreast of developments, however, we must be careful not to lose sight of the old virus types. After all, the number one virus reported to Sophos in 1998 was the macro virus, Excel/Laroux.?
Joshua Reynolds, analyst at research company Gartner agreed: ?With the wide deployment of Microsoft Word and Excel that increasingly employ macros, macro viruses have become a pervasive threat to computer security. In 1998, nearly 80 per cent of all reported malicious code attacks were from macro viruses.?
Virus Bulletin magazine also agreed that macro viruses were the most prevalent last year.
However, Andy Campbell, managing director at security firm Reflex Magnetics, said in the last couple of months he had noticed a change: ?I thought macro viruses were the most prevalent until recently...but I would say that now the numbers of viruses reported is about 50/50 between macros and boot sector viruses.?
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