[ISN] Lies, damned lies and anti-virus statistics

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Thu Jan 17 2002 - 01:59:56 PST

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    By John Leyden
    Posted: 16/01/2002 at 17:33 GMT
    Computer Economics has published its assessment of the damage
    worldwide caused by malicious code attacks in 2001 - the figure comes
    in at a whopping $13.2 billion.
    This is 23 per cent less than 2000, the year of the Love Bug, when
    damages from viruses were estimated at $17.1bn. In 1999 the cost to
    the world was $12.1 billion in 1999, Computer Economics says.
    The research firm has totted up the damage wreaked by viruses each
    year since 1995, But the results are controversial.
    Critics in the antivirus industry dismiss Computer Economics
    assessment of the damage caused by the combined effects of Nimda ($635
    million), Code Red variants ($2.62 billion), SirCam ($1.15 billion) et
    al last year as a "guesstimate".
    They argue that it's hard to calculate the number of infected systems
    and the total damage caused during a virus outbreak, partly because
    costs will vary widely by company. Patching systems is, after all, a
    core part of the work of most sysadmins.
    Michael Erbschloe, vice president of research at Computer Economics,
    angrily rejected criticisms of its methodology and said its work
    helped firms decide how to defend against viruses.
    Erbschloe said Computer Economics does "everything we can to get an
    accurate number and great lengths to determine what the hit rate is".  
    The $13.2 billion figure on the cost of infections in 2001 is "not an
    audit" but it is "accurate", although Erbschloe declined to say just
    how accurate it was.
    Computer Economics' methodology involves first conferring with
    anti-virus companies, governments, law enforcement and major firms,
    Erbschloe told us. It then tries to work out how many people received
    a virus and from that calculates how many were infected. From this,
    Computer Economics estimates the cost of patching systems and losses
    in worker productivity from dealing with a viral outbreak, based on
    benchmarking the cost of cleaning a computer of a virus.
    One of the problems of this approach, explains Alex Shipp, chief
    antivirus technologist at managed services firm MessageLabs, is that
    "users are unable to estimate the damage a virus outbreak might cause
    their own company ... so how does a third party get a figure?"
    Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos Anti-Virus,
    described Computer Economics figures as a "guesstimate", supported by
    insufficient data.
    "Most companies simply don't know how much a virus cost them," he
    said. "As well as lost productivity, viruses can also cost money
    through damaged credibility, effects on customer relations and attacks
    on confidentiality which is hard to estimate."
    MessageLabs and Sophos say that Computer Economics has never contacted
    them about statistics on infections.
    Even if a vendor tracks the percentage of infected emails it blocks
    (as MessageLabs does), or consumer PCs scanned which are infected (as
    McAfee does), it is very difficult to place a dollar figure on such
    Erbschloe said he didn't care what Sophos or MessageLabs thought. He
    said AV vendors quote Computer Economics figures but disagree when an
    estimate is either higher or lower than suits them.
    "Some of them are full of shit," Erbschloe told us, before calming
    down to say, "our figures help end-users decide how much to spend on
    Assessing the cost of virus infections isn't like counting server
    sales, and whoever you sympathise with here, it would be wise to take
    any figures with a grain of salt and to remember the AV industry has
    struggled with metrics for years.
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