Obituary for e-mail viruses

More security researchers predict the death of the mass-mailing virus--reasonable predictions or wishful thinking?

Tech Culture

Over a year ago, during an interview, a security professional predicted that the age of mass-mailing e-mail viruses was coming to an end. Soon after, the Sobig virus slammed users around the Internet.

Despite the resurgence of Bagle this week, another computer consultant is wondering the same thing. Stuart Udall has found that the number of viruses detected by his e-mail server has dropped to near zero, declining from a spike after the Sobig.F virus made its presence known around the world.

Many have speculated that the world has adapted to mass-mailing viruses, like other classes of malicious code such as macro viruses and boot-sector viruses. After all, Internet service providers have started to block spam and e-mail attachments and e-mail clients, such as Microsoft's Outlook, are now blocking known executable file attachments.

Yet, with image-processing flaws allowing executables to take the form of JPEG and PNG (portable network graphics) files, excising programs from e-mail will not be easy. Moreover, with the latest browser attacks enabling a Web site to load malicious programs onto a victim's computer, file attachments are not even necessary.

Until a computer's last defense, the user learns which e-mail messages should be considered dangerous, e-mail viruses will likely not die.

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