Computer Virus Turns 20 Amid New IT Security Scares

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This month marks the twentieth anniversary of the first personal computer virus attack. What better way to celebrate than with the release of additional studies confirming that businesses' high technology endeavors operate in a minefield of new viruses, worms and other security threats?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found that 87 percent of businesses it surveyed suffered attacks that affected their computer security last year. On the heels of that report, technology vendor giant IBM reported that hackers are moving away from the mass mailing of viruses and instead are launching targeted attacks on specific organizations, primarily businesses, with the intent of wreaking financial harm.

The FBI's 2005 Computer Crime Survey concluded that viruses and spyware were the most common attacks on businesses last year and forced victims to shell out $ 31.7 million in clean-up costs. The average cost was $24,000 for 64 percent of the 2,000 businesses the study surveyed.

IBM's Global Business Security Index Report, compiled by Big Blue's 3,000 information security professionals, found that the overall number of suspicious events reported increased last year, but there were considerably few massive “malware” incidents, such as the 2003 and 2004 attacks involving the worms, “Slammer” and “Blaster.”

“The (hacker) environment has shifted – with increased security protection on most systems and stiffer penalties, we are seeing organized, committed and tenacious profiteers in this space This means attacks will be more targeted and potentially damaging,” said Cal Slemp, president of IBM's security and privacy services. “Organizations from around the world must move quickly and work together to address this growing challenge.”

But don't move so quickly that you overlook the twentieth anniversary of Brain, which according to legend, was developed and released in January, 1986, by two software engineers in Pakistan. That virus reportedly could replace the executable code on a floppy disk with a Brain code designed to infect each floppy disk subsequently loaded in a personal computer.

Even before Brain was born, American computer scientist Fred Cohen coined the phrase “computer virus” to describe a program that can affect other computer programs, according to the sci-tech-today Web site. And in 1990, Symantec Corp. launched its Norton Antivirus software at the same time hundreds of viruses were being developed annually.

The number of annual virus births soon grew to the thousands, and then grew even greater with the expanding presence of e-mail. There are now well over 100,000 viruses in circulation, says sci-tech-today.

Business managers and their CPAs and other advisers should be especially watchful. IBM's report says the new wave of hackers targeting individual organizations will be devising a host of new strategies that include; attempts to get company employee computer users to launch attacks by inadvertently opening infected Web links; mounting attacks that span cross country borders; exploiting weaknesses in instant messaging systems and in mobile devices used by company employees.

The report also noted an increase in “spear phishing” in which attackers bombard businesses with malware-infected spam that appears as though it was originated by the company's own technology department.

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