- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2001

Music fans got e-mail yesterday informing them that popular songs downloaded from Napster were imbedded with a virus called MusicPanel. What looked like a warning of cyber-danger turned out to be a Fourth of July hoax.
But anti-virus software companies and network-security firms are busier than ever protecting individuals and corporations from genuine threats from hackers and viruses.
"More and more vulnerabilities in widely used products keep being discovered," said Tim Belcher, chief technical officer of RIPTech Inc., an Alexandria network-security firm that guards corporate computers from hackers.
The number of viruses designed to attack personal computers continues to grow, and experts find about 200 new ones each month.
Symantec Corp., the Cupertino, Calif.-based maker of Norton Anti-Virus software, has identified 50,359 separate viruses since it began searching for the insidious cyber-pests.
Antidotes have been developed to combat many of the known viruses.
The proliferation of viruses isn't the only cause for concern among companies like Symantec and Network Associates Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif., which sell anti-virus software and scour the Web for new attacks.
Some computer users are especially vulnerable because they subscribe to high-speed Internet connections over digital subscriber lines and cable modems. Unlike dial-up connections over standard telephone lines, computers with high-speed links are always online.
That makes them constantly in jeopardy of attack.
"The message needs to get out. As people move from standard dial-up connections to always-on connections, people need to be aware that they are more exposed to viruses," said Vincent Weafer, director of Symantec's anti-virus research center.
Some 6.5 million of the 104 million U.S. households subscribe to high-speed Internet service, according to the Precursor Group, a Washington independent research firm.
Many viruses from the "love bug" attack last year to the "Melissa" virus two years ago are transmitted through e-mail.
"It seems the simple message don't open unsolicited attachments has not yet been hammered home," said David Hughes, president of Sophos Anti-Virus in Wakefield, Mass.
Meanwhile, hackers and virus writers are as active as ever. One of the most active viruses unleashed last month prevents infected computers from getting to Web sites with downloadable anti-virus software, Mr. Hughes said.
Next week's annual hacker convention in Las Vegas could fuel the stream of virus attacks, Mr. Weafer said. The DEF CON virus was released at last year's convention.
Widely released viruses aren't the only problems facing computer users. Hacker attacks against corporate Web sites also are increasing, Mr. Belcher said.
"We're seeing an extended effort from Russia to try to get into financial institutions," he said.
Financial losses from computer crimes grew 43 percent from $265 million to $378 million last year, and 85 percent of businesses and government agencies detected security breaches, according to an annual survey by the FBI and the Computer Security Institute in San Francisco.
Hacker attacks range from efforts to deface a Web site to attempts to disable a site or steal data.
The National Infrastructure Protection Center, an arm of the FBI that investigates cyber-crime, issued a warning in March that hackers were targeting financial institutions and e-commerce sites to steal credit-card information.
After a lull following the NIPC warning, hacker attacks have picked up again, Mr. Belcher said, adding, "It's an amazingly busy summer."
The NIPC said electronic-com-
merce companies should be more careful in protecting their customers' credit-card numbers, and that organized hacker groups, primarily from former Soviet countries, are responsible for recent increases in credit-card thefts.

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