Businesses continue to catch computer viruses

Monday, March 18, 2002

Businesses continue to catch computer viruses

By Scott Moyers ~ Southeast Missourian

For Stu Garrison, it could have gone either way.

The Jackson, Mo., insurance agent received an e-mail from someone he corresponds with electronically, warning him that a computer virus may have been accidentally sent to him.

"Sometimes you get a computer virus from someone trying to warn you," said Garrison. "Those things spread like colds."

Garrison remembered seeing something strange, then went back and found the e-mail with a bizarre icon that matched the virus' description.

He then deleted it unopened and never had a problem.

"I know that I could have, but I guess I was one of the lucky ones," he said.

No doubt.

Businesses continue to experience a steady increase in the number of security incidents involving computer viruses, according to a recently released study.

Viruses continue to cost businesses millions each year. A survey of 300 North American corporations found nearly 1.2 million incidents involving destructive computer code on 666,327 machines during the 20 months from January 2000 through August 2001.

That translates to 113 virus encounters per 1,000 computers over that time frame, a 13 percent increase over the previous survey, which was conducted by ICSA, a hardware and software systems testing and research company.

Problem growing

Based on previous annual surveys, the data indicates an annual growth rate of approximately 20 virus encounters per month for every 1,000 PCs.

"It's gone from being an unusual thing that was talked about around the office for a couple weeks after it happened to something people are running into every day," said Mike Buchanan, owner of Automated Services Co., Inc., in Cape Girardeau.

Buchanan said it's a problem for area businesses, too.

"We routinely see viruses from our customers and quite often find they've had the things for a while until something starts happening," he said.

ASC helps provide computer security for area banks, hospitals, manufacturers, medical offices, insurance agencies and other businesses and individuals that use computers and the Internet.

A computer virus is a program that makes copies of itself and infects diskettes or files. Computer viruses can spread to other computers and files whenever infected diskettes or files are exchanged. Files can be erased or computer programs can be changed, making them difficult to use or may make your computer crash constantly.

Often infected files come as e-mail attachments, even from people who don't know they are sending them. The e-mail senders have no idea that they are passing on a file with a virus in it.

"Mostly it's been an irritation," said Buchanan. "Most of the viruses we see are not destructive. They don't go in and wipe out somebody's hard drive. Not to say that they aren't out there."

He said most of the damage is caused when systems are slowed down or have to be corrected. That costs businesses money through work disruption and the cost to have the viruses removed.

Cybercrime advice

Cpl. Trevor Pulley, a detective with the Cape Girardeau Police Department, works on financial and computer crimes in the area.

"We get several reports on different aspects of computer crime," he said.

Pulley gets some calls from businesses and individuals about viruses attached to e-mails, but he said he believes most people handle it themselves by hiring computer companies or getting help elsewhere.

"But those who do call, I give advice on how to avoid a repeat," Pulley said. "I tell them how to get rid of the virus and then tell them to get computer virus software."

He said he also advises people to get a firewall, a security system used to protect a networked server or computer from intentional or accidental damage or unauthorized access.

Pulley said different types of people are responsible.

"Sometimes it's kids goofing around," he said. "Some kids have more computer skills than adults do."

Pulley said that it's also sometimes internal. Disgruntled employees might be sabotaging their own employers because they feel unappreciated. It might be hackers, people who have gained access to computer systems from the outside. Hackers can steal account information or simply destroy information in the system, he said.

Buchanan said he thinks it is a situation that's only going to get worse.

"I fear that it's going to become more than an aggravation," he said. "We're going to start seeing them come in and wipe out hard drives instead of just sending goofy messages and causing a little trouble. For me, it's more a question of when, not if."

335-6611, extension 137

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