Sunday, February 29, 2004

February was the worst month ever for cyber-security as a record number of computer viruses and worms attacked the Internet, flooding in-boxes with unwanted e-mail, crippling Web sites and costing businesses up to $83 billion worldwide.

Security specialists reported hundreds of new viruses and worms during the month, including several new e-mail worms that caused significant financial hardship to computer users and businesses.

Internet attacks in February caused an estimated $68 billion to $83 billion in damages worldwide, British computer-security firm mi2g reported. The damage estimates are about $50 billion higher than in January, previously the most costly month on record. Much of February’s cost stemmed from the MyDoom worm, which appeared at the end of January and continued to spread.

MyDoom, along with at least a half-dozen major worms that appeared in February, sent themselves to most of the listings in computer e-mail address books. Some shut down Web sites by flooding the sites with data.

The estimated cost of February’s Internet attacks rose nearly $13 billion in the last 10 days of the month, when several new worms and viruses appeared. The worst of them, known as Netsky, spread so quickly it became one of the top 10 most-damaging viruses or worms of all time, mi2g said.

To estimate the cost of Internet attacks, mi2g calculated lost business and productivity and the cost of extra bandwidth, software and pay to workers assigned to clean infected systems.

In February, five new versions of MyDoom combined with the Netsky worm and others to send millions of unwanted e-mail messages with misleading subject lines such as “delivery failed,” “status” and “read it immediately.”

A recent variant of MyDoom, known as MyDoom.F, succeeded in flooding the Web site of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) last week. Access to RIAA’s Web site was hampered Friday in some parts of the world.

The first MyDoom worm in January triggered similar attacks against the Web sites of Microsoft and SCO Group Inc., the owner of the UNIX operating system.

The recent worms and viruses also are designed to insert programs into computers that allow them to be controlled remotely. By gaining access to these computers, hackers can perform illegal activities without detection, including sending mass amounts of unwanted e-mail ads or spam.

Although February was the worst month for cyber-security in terms of economic damage, it likely was not the worst in terms of computers infected, security analysts said. More computers were infected in August, when the SoBig.F, Welchia and Blaster appeared.

Some security analysts said the cost of Internet attacks is rising because hackers are getting better at finding infected computers and using them to attack Web sites.

“The level of sophistication required to mount such attacks is higher than average,” mi2g reported. “Hackers with beginners’ skills with their usual scanning tools cannot exploit a … compromised computer that easily on the Internet.”

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