2001 was the worst year yet in the annals of Internet security, and experts say things are only going to get worse in the year ahead.
The past 12 months have been one long coming-out party for the fast-spreading e-mail worm, several flavors of which ran amok on the Internet at various points. Names such as Nimda, Code Red and Badtrans showed up on the evening news, and it seemed that just as one worm was dying down, another popped up to take its place.
Many security specialists and network administrators were caught off guard by the advent of such worms, especially Code Red and its descendants, which tore through corporate networks last summer at an unprecedented pace and threatened to cripple the Internet.
Code Red, Nimda and others ushered in the age of so-called blended threats: malicious programs that combine traditional viruslike behaviors with other threats, such as the ability to infect machines through multiple means or launch a denial-of-service attack.
"The complexity of the threats will increase in the future," said Ian Hameroff, director of anti-virus solutions at Computer Associates International Inc., in Islandia, N.Y. "This was kicked off by Code Red and Nimda, which uses multiple routes to infect computers. Now, were probably aware of whats coming, but theres still an opportunity for multiple propagation threats to spread."
Most of the worms and viruses that made life this year miserable for administrators and users targeted Microsoft Corp.s Windows operating systems and, specifically, its IIS Web server component. While Microsoft took its share of lumps for the vulnerabilities in its products, Hameroff says that Windows is targeted by virus writers mainly because it is ubiquitous and presents a quick way to spread their offspring.
There have been a few viruses targeted at other operating systems, such as Linux, of late, but they havent reached anywhere near the level of infection of even a moderately damaging Win32 virus.
"Virus writers will use whats successful. Thats why you dont see viruses targeted at obscure platforms or niche products," Hameroff said. "Look at the user community around Windows: You have everything from grandmas on up to head programmers using it.
"Linux is still more of a technophiles operating system. But as Linux becomes a more prevalent platform, well see more things targeted at it."