Viruses Crowded Internet in 2004

by Tim Gray

It was a banner year for virus writers, hackers and spammers, as worms and phishing attacks rocketed to new levels and security concerns headed mainstream.

This year, a teenage German boy was allegedly responsible for more than half of all computer viruses spread throughout the world and his Netsky-P virus still makes the rounds as he awaits trial 10 months later, according to a report released by Web security firm, Sophos.

Although Sven Jaschan's creation may have been the hardest-hitting virus of 2004 — five of its variants made Sophos' dubious top-10 virus list — Netsky-P had plenty of company.

"2004 was the year of the Netsky — the first of more than 30 versions of this worm arrived on the scene in February and an astonishing five variants have made it into the annual top 10," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

Sophos also counted a 51.8 percent jump in the number of new viruses this year; The Zafi-B virus and the Internet worm Sasser filled the other top three positions.

"It is simply shocking that viruses like Netsky-P and Zafi-B are still infecting computers, months after they were first protected against by anti-virus companies," Cluley said. "Anyone still being infected by these worms is demonstrating a worrying lack of concern for their PC's health."

The list was bad news for Microsoft as all of the top-10 viruses were Windows 32 viruses, according to Sophos. They only affected Microsoft e-mail or Internet users.

Spammed A Lot
If a virus didn't hit your computer in 2004, spam surely did. Once again the United States was the worst offender when it came to the junk e-mail, according to Sophos. Almost 42 percent of it was sent from American computers during 2004. The United Kingdom also sent a fair share of the unwanted e-mails, as one in every 100 came from the country.

Sophos' Top 10 Viruses
1. Netsky-P

While it's fair to say the spam game remained the same, many of the names have changed. At least according to America Online's second annual "Top-Ten Spam Terms."

Hackneyed phrases and tired old hooks like "Oprah", "Teens" and "Viagra" were out, replaced buy new-and-improved slogans advertising mortgage deals, stock offerings and the allegedly not-so-painless painkiller, Vioxx.

AOL also said spam e-mails carrying phishing, or identity theft scams, were on the rise. Subject lines carrying information about your lost inheritance were a must-miss, unless of course your name was Paris Hilton. And while on the subject of the Internet and the heiress, there was much less so-called "porn spam" in 2004 as compared to 2003, which might explain why the pseudo-celeb was absent from the list this year.

Spammers also switched to more text-based spam instead of image-based spam, especially as it pertained to adult-themed junk e-mails, according to AOL.

Phishing attempts increased 30 percent worldwide, according to Sophos. While the numbers were troublesome enough, the increased sophistication of the attacks worry security experts.

Sophos identified a new type of phishing attack this year that — rather than direct people to fake banking Web sites in order to capture personal information — waits for users to visit real banking Web sites before monitoring and secretly recording the login process.

Adapted from internetnews.com.

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This article was originally published on Wednesday Jan 5th 2005
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