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Viruses with more bark than bite

Computer security specialists say better safe than sorry

Viruses with more bark than bite

Kristie Lu Stout
CNN Hong Kong

(CNN) -- The market for computer security is booming as PC users become more aware of the need to protect themselves from worms and viruses.

"Code Red" hit the headlines in July last year, with dire predictions that the PC worm would cripple the Internet. Yet in the end, Code Red didn't even make the year's virus Top 10.

"The big viruses that hit last year -- Code Red, for example," says Dion Wiggins, research director at Gartner. "While it didn't actually do any real damage to your systems, they were significantly overhyped for what they could do further down the track."

Code Red had more bark than bite, thanks to a bit of viral marketing. Security outfits sometimes issue virus alerts when there may be only a mild threat, in a bid to get the word out first.

CNN's Kristy Lu Stout reports on computer virus alarms and what security software makers are doing to help.

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"Within the industry, it's more a case of who gets to say it first," says David Sykes, director at Symantec. "Because that's normally what would trigger media attention. So there's a race or perception of a race to do that."

Palm of your hand

Take the PDA. Antivirus firms are selling software to protect handheld operating systems like Palm. But analysts say the wave of marketing hit before any risk even appeared.

"There's a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt on the mobile and wireless platforms," Wiggins says.

"Most of the major vendors have (antivirus) products for Palm, Pocket PC, Symbian and so on. Yet for Palm there has only been one actual, official virus, period. There's been none for Windows CE yet."

And the hype is contagious.


Investors have boosted shares in security software firms, reflecting fears of cyberterrorism in a post-September-11 world.

Network Associates, Symantec and Trend Micro have all seen the price of their shares nearly double from early September.

But security software executives insist it's not their intention to scare clients into buying their products.

"There may be some occasions particularly where we've become aware that we have a severe virus, when we would undertake a media release," Sykes says. "But in that situation, it's more of an informative process than a public-relations exercise."

"I think it is a scare campaign, but it's a necessary scare campaign," Wiggins says. "Until things like the 'I Love U' virus and so on, many people just thought, 'It won't happen to me.'"

So in the opinion of security specialists, publicity around a virus may make people nervous, but it's better than none at all.


• Symantec
• Gartner

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