The rise in computer viruses within Internet messages is outpacing the growth of email.
That's the alarming conclusion of a survey by anti virus specialists MessageLabs, a firm which scans its customer's email for malicious code. It predicts the increase in virus-laden emails will be felt most acutely within government.
MessageLabs forecasts that virus' arriving at local and central government offices by email will rise by 222 per cent this year compared to only a 62 per cent rise in email use. The manufacturing industry and media sector also fared badly in the study, which is based on spotting trends from a sample of 50 million emails sent to a cross-section of MessageLabs customers in between January 2000 and the end of February this year.
The increasing prominence of email, coupled with the availability of virus tool kits that allow vandals to construct Internet worms, is blamed for fuelling the increase.
Mark Sunner, chief technical officer at MessageLabs, said: "The figures are disturbing. Although the use of email continues to flourish, and awareness of viruses increases, we aren't seeing a proportional rise in effective virus protection."
Alex Shipp, an antivirus technologist at MessageLabs, said that those sectors likely to face the greatest proportionate increase in malicious code are ones with weaker security practices, where virus defences are not kept up to date.
"There's a lot of viruses that can spread rapidly by email out there and they don't seem to be dying out quickly," said Shipp.
Shipp added that MessageLabs still regularly intercepts variants of the infamous Love Bug virus, so far it has quarantined 32 copies of the virus today alone. Protection against the Love Bug and its variants is universally available so that means a sizeable proportion of computer users have not protection against viruses in place, he added. ®
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