Review: Non-Traditional Antivirus

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-06-08 Print this article Print

Why your antivirus program won't catch the next attack and how some vendors are trying different approaches to find the attacks that haven't been written yet.

"Why me?" Thats what plenty of PC users were asking themselves last December, shortly after they opened an e-mail message from an acquaintance with this subject line and found their systems infected with Win32/Sober.C, yet another in a seemingly endless stream of worms zooming around the Internet.

Many of those infected were probably good Internet citizens, running antivirus software with up-to-date signatures that should have stopped every known virus in the wild. Unfortunately, too often today, worms (viruslike programs that can spread themselves to other machines without user intervention) get into the wild before antivirus companies can create and distribute appropriate signatures. Technically, most recent worms are fairly unsophisticated, but they all use clever social-engineering tricks (the e-mail address of someone known to the recipient, with enticing subject lines, message text, and attachment names) to make people open the files, thus kicking off incredibly rapid outbreaks.

According to, a project of the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg in Germany and AV-Test GmbH, the Romania-based Softwin (creator of BitDefender) was the first antivirus company to have a definition for Sober.C—10 hours after the virus was first detected. Symantec didnt have a signature available until more than a day after the first sighting, and McAfees came a day after that. In an article on outbreak response time in the February 2004 Virus Bulletin (, AV-Tests Andreas Marx was quick to point out that the company that was first for this particular virus may not be first the next time. But it doesnt really matter. Even a 10-hour response time is too slow.
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Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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