experts are in a race to find ways to block increasingly complex
worms and viruses that burrow into computers, usually via e-mail,
and wreak havoc on network systems.
computer worm is a reproductive program that can travel on its
own through network connections. A virus, on the other hand, depends
on the transfer of files between machines to spread. The damage
they inflict can range from headaches for computer users if their
programs are disabled, to billions of dollars' worth of losses
if businesses are unable to function normally.
and viruses are as old as the Internet. The Morris worm of 1988
is the first known malicious worm. It was released into the ARPAnet
-- the federal Advanced Research Project Agency's precursor to
the Internet. The worm copied itself across the ARPAnet overnight,
crashing 6,000 machines. A graduate student reportedly created
the worm out of boredom.
virus struck in 1999, entering computers via a Microsoft Word
document attachment on e-mails with the seemingly innocuous subject
line, "Important message from [name]," and causing millions
of dollars in damages.
In 2002, the
vicious Bugbear worm entered the scene. Once activated, Bugbear
checked for antivirus software or personal "firewalls"
and then worked to destroy them. According to Network World Fusion,
the worm then implanted a "Trojan," which created a
listening service so attackers could upload or download files
horses" are usually sent via e-mail, often disguised as programs
that claim to provide online services, and once activated can
read information from inside computer files.
The SQL Slammer
worm attacked networks across Asia, Europe and the Americas, closing
certain ATM machines for half a day in January 2003 and becoming
the focus of an FBI investigation, CNN reported. Continental Airlines
had to resort to booking flights with pen and paper when the worm
temporarily disabled its computer systems.
of the Blaster worm, which hit more than 1 million computer systems
worldwide in August 2003, shut down the mail-tracking systems
of Japan's post offices for hours in October, according to News.com.au.
The infected computers were immediately disconnected from the
network to avoid more widespread damage.
and worms cause huge economic losses each year. Based on surveys,
PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated in 2000 that global corporations
sustained more than $1.5 trillion in losses in one year due to
security breaches, including the culprit, computer viruses. Sixty-five
percent of respondents said they experienced loss of productivity
due to the cyber-attacks.
use of the Windows operating system and Microsoft operating tools
has made them a target of computer viruses. Microsoft provides
"patches" that computer users may download onto their
machines to battle specific viruses. The issue is so significant
that company founder Bill Gates is working on an initiative aimed
at improving the security of Microsoft products.
has become so profound that Microsoft announced Nov. 5, 2003,
a new $5 million reward program to help law enforcement catch
and convict people who release worms, viruses and other types
of destructive computer programs. But often worms and viruses
spread too quickly for investigators to find their creators.
environment created when certain computer programs become dominant
has made it easier for computer users to communicate with each
other around the world but also has created a fertile ground for
computer viruses. Creating a more diverse software environment
would make it harder for viruses to spread but many say is not
worth the toll it would take on productivity and efficiency.
By Larisa Epatko, Online NewsHour