Virus and spam rates rise again in Ireland

1 Sep 2005

The amount of email-borne viruses circulating in Ireland rose again in August by more than a third from the previous month’s rate, according to figures released today. Data from IE Internet, the email and hosting provider, shows that 13.04pc of Irish email traffic contained a worm or virus last month.

The rate of viruses tracked in August was close to the record high of 15.71pc in June and considerably higher than levels found earlier in the year. As with previous months, the spread of infection is broadly based, with the most common virus being Zafi.B that accounted for 18.77pc of bad messages.

Ken O’Driscoll, technical director of IE Internet told “Zafi.B is back on top because it’s a really good virus. It spreads via multiple means – peer to peer and email.” Zafi.B has been in circulation since the middle of last year and also topped IE Internet’s chart in August 2004.

August also saw fewer occurrences of variants of the Mytob worm than in July. According to O’Driscoll, the mass infection of Mytob worms predicted in some quarters hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. He said new viruses follow one of the following patterns: one, they spread poorly or too slowly and thus get killed off relatively quickly by antivirus systems. Or they run their course then die off naturally – people clean their systems or antivirus software defeats them. Alternatively, they go through several mutations and begin to spread more rapidly with each mutation.

“Only time will tell which one Mytob is,” he said. “Remember that multiple mutations of both Zafi and Netsky were around at the bottom of the league tables for a good while before the dominant strains emerged and took hold.”

In total, the top five infections were responsible for just 76.46pc of all infected emails. Six months previously, it was more common for the five most frequently occurring viruses to account for around 90pc of all infections.

Spam levels also rose last month, up to 38.32pc from 35.48pc recorded in July. For the first time since IE Internet began tracking virus and spam rates in October 2003, the US dropped below the 50pc mark (49.41pc) as the origin of spam coming to Ireland.

“We’ve been hovering around 40pc for the past few months,” O’Driscoll noted. “I don’t see it getting better but hopefully it won’t increase too much before the end of the year. Funnily, Australia still holds third place despite its much vaunted drive to limit outgoing email to approved internet service providers only.”

O’Driscoll also agreed that Microsoft’s recent settlement with the so-called ‘spam king’ Scott Richter, may have been responsible for the decline in unsolicited mail from the US. “It is very possible that knocking out one major spammer would cause spam to drop,” he said. Richter was alleged to have sent close to 38 billion emails per year before the net closed in.

By Gordon Smith