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Cybernaut

Internet still sick

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A series of computer worms in recent weeks has infected millions of computers, taking advantage of flaws in networks and software to propagate their mischief.

As of Aug. 19, Symantec (http://securityresponse.symantec.com) listed the top virus threats as W32.Sobig.F@mm; W32.Welchia.Worm; W32.Blaster.Worm; W32.Bugbear.B@mm; W32.Minmail.A@mm; and W32.HLLW.Fizzer@mm.

Because we’re a Mac shop here at Pique Newsmagazine, we weren’t affected by any of these PC-centric pests, although we did get our share of e-mails from infected computers.

Patches for all of these worms and viruses were available almost immediately, but by the time the alert goes out the damage is typically already done.

Sobig.F, for example, was just the latest in a string of similar viruses, following Sobig.A, Sobig.B, etc. It was programmed to spread from computer to computer through the Internet by using e-mail address books, and then to attempt to download information from one of 20 master computers over a period of a weekend. Imagine hundreds of thousands of computers attempting to link up with a handful of computers over a short period of time – it would effectively shut those master computers down.

The computer security specialists discovered the threat early and succeeded in thwarting the virus by taking their computers off-line and patching their security systems.

Now security experts are watching for Sobig.G to emerge. Then Sobig.H. Followed by Sobig.I. And so on and so on.

Nobody knows who is responsible. Sobig.F was spread using online news groups tied to porn by someone using a stolen credit card.

The Blaster virus uses a hole in Windows to crash computers. It was followed closely by Welchia – an ill-advised attempt to patch the hole that Blaster takes advantage of that ended up congesting networks.

Microsoft programs are frequently the target of virus attacks, and while many do spread, the actual damage has been contained recently. More malicious virus and worm programmers are more of a nuisance than a threat it would seem, but security experts are still taking it seriously.

What is becoming more and more apparent is that the majority of worm and virus infections are preventable by the use of firewalls, security software and common sense, but the majority of computer users seem to have none of these things.

To counter this, Microsoft is taking some unusual steps. Last week the company launched a "Protect Your PC" public awareness campaign. The campaign urges computer users to get security software and to update it regularly. In addition, they recommend regularly updating and patching your software programs and operating systems.

Another fix proposed by Microsoft is a system that would automatically offer software updates to users that they can either take or leave.

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