March virus rate drops but new malicious code remains

4 Apr 2005

Last month saw a drop in virus infections found in Irish emails, returning to levels recorded in the early part of the year. According to new data from IE Internet, 8.17pc of emails circulating in Ireland contained some form of virus or malicious code.

The decline is significant as the virus rate for February was 11.99pc; in January the level was recorded at 7.39pc. There is another story behind March’s figures, however. Having fallen from top spot as far back as last October, the Netsky.P worm was found in 28.67pc of all infected emails during last month, ahead of all others.

Its resurgence is directly related to another malicious piece of code tracked by IE Internet’s systems. IFrame@expl exploits a flaw in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer that allows a malicious HTML document such as an email message to execute automatically when it is viewed through the browser or Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express.

IFrame helps Netsky.P to spread as users don’t even have to click on the attachment to launch the virus – it could be spread simply by opening the infected message in the preview pane of Microsoft Outlook. “It’s a delivery mechanism,” said Ken O’Driscoll, technical manager with IE Internet. The exploit also increased its presence; having been found in 7.19pc of attacks in February, by March its reach grew dramatically to 13.05pc.

The latest figures again raise the issue of home users and businesses not protecting their systems adequately to prevent a malicious code from infecting their machines. “The IFrame exploit attacks something that was patched years ago. It’s not a revolutionary way of bypassing security,” O’Driscoll said.

He added that the monthly figures only track the amount of viruses in circulation – they don’t indicate the number of compromised PCs. “It’s not that everyone’s systems are out of date,” he said. “All it takes is one person that’s not patched and they’re sending infections out left, right and centre.”

Meanwhile, the level of spam in Ireland has remained broadly stable for the fourth month running. In March it was 36.46pc, compared to the February figure of 38.1pc and the levels of 36.68pc and 39.35pc recorded in January and December respectively. O’Driscoll noted that irrelevant and unwanted email messages take up valuable space on a company’s internet connection. “Users might wonder why they aren’t able to access the internet – it’s because the bandwidth is tied up with all this junk.”

By Gordon Smith