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Antivirus firm predicts bug flood

Virus attacks may triple by the end of the year, according to new research from British antivirus software company MessageLabs.

Virus attacks may triple by the end of the year, according to research from British antivirus software company MessageLabs, which projected that government departments and companies will collapse under the weight of malicious e-mail attachments.

The research indicates virus incidents will increase dramatically over the coming year. Within government offices, the number of virus incidents is predicted to rise 222 percent, with e-mail use increasing just 62 percent by comparison.

A similarly worrying situation is predicted for the commercial sector. The manufacturing industry can expect virus outbreaks to increase 234 percent with e-mail use up only 124 percent, and the media sector will see 219 percent more viruses this year, with a 137 percent increase in e-mail usage.

The figures are extrapolated from the increase in virus incidents MessageLabs customers saw between January 2000 and February 2001. In this time, MessageLabs says it scanned more than 50 million e-mail messages for viruses. "The figures are disturbing," said MessageLabs Chief Technical Officer Mark Sunner. "Although the use of e-mail continues to flourish, and awareness of viruses increases, we aren't seeing a proportional rise in effective virus protection."

Many virus experts blame virus outbreaks on a lack of common sense among Internet users, but Sunner said that companies can't afford to rely on educating users. "It is unrealistic to expect employees to be wholly responsible for stopping viruses by updating antivirus software," he said. "The figures show that there are now just too many viruses and virus variants out there for traditional (antivirus) software to cope with," he added.

Graham Cluley, head of virus research at another Brtish antivirus software company, Sophos, said it's not time to panic. "I think that predictions that it will mean the end of industry are pessimistic," he said. "I don't think there is any scientific evidence that the situation is going to get radically worse than it is now."

Staff writer Will Knight reported from London.