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Study: Boom in computer viruses

More firms are using antivirus software, but they're also suffering more computer viruses on their corporate networks, according to a study.

More companies are using antivirus software, but they're also suffering more computer viruses on their corporate networks, according to a study by private firm International Computer Security Association.

Its 1998 computer virus prevalence survey blames those results in part on increased usage of email and the Internet. The ICSA study polled IT professionals from 300 large U.S. corporations and government institutions representing some 750,000 PCs and servers.

The rate of infection in 1998 is 48 percent higher than reported last year, even though almost every site claimed to have antivirus software installed and running continuously. The 1998 survey found an average of 86.5 virus incidents per 1,000 machines.

"A lot has to do with the fact that more viruses are being created," ICSA's Larry Bidwell said in an interview. Antivirus vendors estimate that 200 to 300 new viruses are created every month, although not all are released in the wild. That makes regular updates of antivirus software critical.

An important factor in the flurry of virus incidents, the report found, is ineffective enforcement of corporate policies on updating antivirus software regularly, scanning incoming email and attachments, improper installation, and too little attention to antivirus policies for remote users, telecommuters, and mobile workers.

Macro viruses are driving the increased virus infections, transmitted principally as email attachments of word processing documents or spreadsheets, ICSA reported. It urged continuous scanning of email attachments.

Growing popularity of email is producing a related boom in email-borne viruses. In this year's survey, 32 percent of participants identified email as a source of virus infections, up from 26 percent last year and just 9 percent in 1996.

The survey unearthed no big surprises, Bidwell said. "The more we are connected and the more we use our computers, the more chances we have to be infected by viruses."

Bidwell said he's doing additional research on the central paradox of the survey--more antivirus software, more viruses. He recommends setting antivirus software to scan every incoming file.