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Future Trends in Viral Malware

Virus and anti-virus technologies continue to increase in complexity and sophistication. The likelihood of contracting a virus on the Internet increases as 'fast burner' virus dissemination techniques evolve, and the number of potential hosts increases with the expansion of the Internet itself. It depends on where you go. If you frequent the back alleys of the Internet, you should exercise caution in downloading any file (digitally signed or otherwise). Usenet newsgroups are places where viruses might be found, especially in those newsgroups where hot or restricted material is trafficked. Examples of such material include warez (pirated software) or pornography. Similarly, newsgroups that traffic in cracking utilities are suspect. However, the nature of the virus threat means that you are far likelier to receive an infection from someone you know, someone with no malicious intention, than from a known or anonymous virus author/distributor. We therefore recommend that you look through the guidelines to practicing "safe hex" for computer users and administrators summarized in the final section of this chapter.

Virus technology has been through a number of phases. The first big wave was the PC boot sector infector, mostly overshadowing even the parasitic fast-infector and the "big-iron" infecting worms. The second wave was largely the rise of the macro virus. Among these, the first email-aware macro viruses foreshadowed the coming of the next wave: Melissa, LoveLetter, and the macro and VBScript worms that dominate the scene at the time of writing. Many examples of the current wave of email viruses/worms are less sophisticated than the more complex, "traditional" viruses, relying to some extent on social engineering (psychological manipulation) as much as technical complexity. However, some recent examples (Hybris, MTX) combine technical complexity with social engineering.

It's been suggested that upcoming operating systems will be so secure that viruses will cease to be a problem. However, experience indicates that as particular loopholes are patched, others are found and exploited. Expect the unexpected.

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