Thursday, December 21, 2006

The End of Computer Viruses

Remember back when the news was filled with stories of some new computer virus or worm that was wreaking havoc with corporate networks and home computers all over the country and world? Remember Melissa, I Love You, Code Red, Slammer, Blaster, and MyDoom? Of course you do, it was only two years ago when "malicious" code and "outbreaks" were in the headlines on a regular basis.

Do those days seem long gone? We really haven't seen any kind of "outbreak" in the last two years. The last worm that got any kind of press was Zotob. One can argue that the only reason it got a lot of press was because it hit CNN's website.

So what's happened? Are people much better at keeping their OS updated with the latest security fixes? Do we all have anti-virus software that is also frequently updated? Those things are probably true. You have to give credit to Microsoft, too. The mighty XP Service Pack 2 (and Server 2003 Service Pack 1) plugged a lot of holes. It turned on firewalls and it annoyed the crap out of you if you didn't have the latest patches and an updated anti-virus program always running.

Vista is even more secure than XP-SP2, with Microsoft finally realizing that having every user as an administrator by default is a flawed strategy. However, is the extra security even needed? Maybe it will provide extra deterrence to spyware, but the age of the computer virus appears to be over.

I'm not just saying this because of the lack of notable outbreaks over the last two years. I recently had coffee with a friend of mine who works for a major security software company. He told me the entire emphasis in the company has switched from viruses to spam. It's not nearly as high-profile. There's not going to be a story on CBS about spam making it into your inbox, but that's where the money is now. The only capitalist conclusion is that viruses are dead. Of course to put my money where my mouth is, I should turn off the antivirus software on my computers...

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