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Virus infections grow threefold

A survey says viruses now infect corporate desktops almost three times as often as a year ago.

Viruses infect corporate desktops almost three times as often now as a year ago, according to survey funded primarily by antivirus software vendors.

Despite notably wider use of antivirus software, virtually every medium or large enterprise surveyed had at least one computer virus infection in the past year. Email has become one of the leading ways to transmit viruses, according to the survey sponsored by the National Computer Security Association, a for-profit security testing firm.

The survey, which was conducted by Paria Group, indicated that about 40 percent of all computers used in the 300 firms surveyed would experience a virus infection within a year.

By far the biggest problem came from "macro" viruses carried in common word processing documents and spreadsheets, which represented 80 percent of the viruses reported in March. That compared to 49 percent a year earlier. The survey found that incidents of macro virus infections had doubled on average every four months over the past year.

The "Word Concept" virus caused almost half of all infections reported and the "Wazzu" virus, which also affects Word documents, was responsible for about 20 percent.

About 33 of every 1,000 machines were infected in any given month, a significant increase from 1996, when about 10 out of every 1,000 PCs were infected per month.

Use of antivirus software grew from 60 percent of machines in 1996 survey to 73 percent in 1997, the NCSA's annual Virus Prevalence Survey reported.

Email was the leading cause of macro virus infections; a lesser number of viruses were carried on diskettes. Respondents thought 45 percent of their most recent virus incidents began with either a download (19 percent) or opening an email attachment (26 percent).

Nearly 43 percent of respondents believe computer virus problems have grown worse this year.

The 300 survey respondents represented more than 700,000 desktop computers and 24,000 servers.

Sponsors of the study included Trend Micro, Cheyenne Software, Command Software Systems, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Dr. Solomon Software International, Intel, McAfee Associates, Microsoft, On Technology, Quarterdeck, and Symantec.

A complete copy of the virus report can be downloaded from Trend Micro's Web site.