[ISN] Home to 43,000 computer viruses

From: cult hero (jerichoat_private)
Date: Wed Apr 28 1999 - 13:29:35 PDT

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    Forwarded From: William Knowles <erehwonat_private>
    (April 28, 1999 12:46 a.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - Even the most
    stout-hearted hard drive would shudder. Copies of more than 43,000
    computer viruses are kept under lock and key at the Malicious Code
    Laboratory in rural Pennsylvania, a facility operated by a company that
    has become the equivalent of the World Health Organization for the data
    processing industry.
    "That lab in Carlisle, Pa., has good physical security. You cannot get in
    without a key card," assures Roger Thompson, the affable, Australian-born
    technical director for malicious code research for the firm.
    His company - ICSA Inc., which has its headquarters in a Washington, D.C.,
    suburb - uses the pernicious software to test and certify dozens of
    commercial security programs that corporations and individuals hope will
    protect them from malicious hackers.
    Thompson said the list of known viruses grows by about 1,000 a month, but
    many of these are simple modifications of older viruses.
    "Of all of the thousands of viruses we've identified, only about 150
    actually get onto very many people's computer desktops. And maybe another
    500 or so make it to localized outbreaks," Thompson said.
    The reason, despite tremendous media hype, is that computer viruses
    generally have a hard time proliferating. Writers of virus programs have a
    hard time designing a bug that will attack most personal computers because
    of the incredible diversity of software that computers use.
    "There are a few viruses that we call Win32-infectors, because they attack
    the Windows operating system itself. But these are very hard to write, so
    we don't see many of them," Thompson said.
    Instead, virus authors rely upon "macro" programs that attach to specific
    kinds of software.
    "We've identified about 4,000 macro viruses that attach themselves to
    Microsoft Office products. The reason these guys do this is they want
    their viruses to spread, so they pick popular software," Thompson said.
    Police arrested David L. Smith, 30, of Aberdeen Township, N.J., last month
    and charged him with authorship of the "Melissa" virus, which disrupted
    e-mail systems for several large companies, including Charles Schwab & Co.
    "Melissa wasn't overly bright. It only targeted Microsoft Mail, which
    isn't all that popular. But the guy found a good way to get his virus to
    spread," Thompson said. 
    The program gummed up e-mail systems by sending out thousands of versions
    of itself, as well as pornographic Web site passwords and addresses.
    Despite its simplicity and the severe limitations on the kinds of software
    it attacks, Melissa received enough news coverage to accelerate security
    concerns for businesses that increasingly rely upon the Internet.
    "We are now a wired world," said Laurie W. Wagner, senior vice president
    for marketing at ICSA. "So security has become an issue for everyone, from
    simple consumer marketing to business-to-business transfer of critical
    Wagner said anti-virus programs and other software designed to protect
    computer equipment are expected to grow from a $5 billion industry in 1997
    to $25 billion by 2003. That's a lot of money in order to stop a handful
    of bored and mostly youthful mischief-makers. 
    "A lot of them truly are kids," Thompson said. "I've met one guy who used
    to be known as 'Storm-Bringer' who has come across from the dark side. He
    was an intelligent young man who just decided to grow up. It was clear
    that this (virus writing) was something he did just because he knew how."
    Measures to defeat "hackers" - computer enthusiasts who delight in gaining
    access to private, often sensitive, computer files using telephone lines
    or the Internet - are also becoming big business. Internet security
    services alone are projected to grow from a $4.6 billion market in 1996 to
    $11.6 billion within three years.
    ICSA computers at its Reston, Va., headquarters endlessly look for ways
    that hackers could break into corporate data systems. Once identified,
    these "back doors" are either closed or given "firewall" software
    protection to prevent unwanted outside access across the Internet.
    "Frequently, we find a lot of undocumented Web addresses that companies
    didn't know about," Wagner said. Hackers can gain access to an entire
    computer system through an unprotected site on the Web.
    "We conducted a scan for one company that had more than 1,000 undocumented
    sites," she said. "They were pretty surprised."
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