Bane And Boom: Virus Onslaught Boosts Antivirus Software Market

Last month's barrage of viruses and worms should keep antivirus vendors' cash registers humming, according to IDC.
The only silver lining in the cloud of August's viruses and worms will be continued growth in the antivirus software market, IDC analysts said Tuesday.

"The recent onslaught of viruses and worms such as Blaster, Nachi, and Sobig highlight the need for antivirus products--and more importantly, the need to update services," said Brian Burke, research manager for IDC's security products division.

IDC predicted that the antivirus software business will keep booming, fueled by fears that further viruses and worms on the level of Blaster and Sobig will strike.

After growing some 31% in 2002 over the previous year--to $2.2 billion--IDC now forecasts that the business will get even bigger over the next five years. By 2007, antivirus solutions will carry a worldwide price tag of $4.4 billion--double that of five years earlier.

The factors that will drive the long-term boom are primarily coming from the consumer and small business sides, said IDC, where higher-profile attacks and higher-priced monthly subscriptions to antivirus updates will combine to boost sales and revenues.

"While corporate customers have long realized that antivirus software is only as good as its last update, consumers and small businesses are realizing the necessity of subscription-based updates," Burke said.

IDC's take on the impact of Blaster and Sobig was borne out Tuesday as several antivirus firms announced their monthly lists of the most prevalent malware.

According to Moscow-based Kaspersky Labs, the Sobig virus--the most recent variation of which flooded mailboxes two weeks ago--accounted for 61% of all viruses and worms detected during August.

Sophos, another antivirus vendor, tagged Sobig, Blaster, and Nachi as the top three on its monthly top 10 list. By Sophos' tallies, Sobig.F ranked No. 1 for August, accounting for more than one of every three viruses or worms. Blaster was a distant second, with approximately 19% of the month's count.

"August 2003 will be remembered as one of the worst months in the history of computer security," said Chris Belthoff, a senior security analyst at Sophos. "Sobig.F clogged up in-boxes and crippled networks with the sheer volume of email traffic. Users and companies should remain on guard and put systems in place to protect against future attacks."

"Consumers and small businesses are finally recognizing that antivirus software is more of a service than a product," said Chris Christiansen, IDC's VP of security services.

The future of antivirus defenses lies in the "layered" approach that many organizations are taking, said Christiansen, who predicted that the combination of traditional, signature-based technologies and behavior-based analysis will increasingly be applied to defend against both known, and more important, unknown, attacks.

Other analysts have applied the August's lessons differently. Gartner's Arabella Hallawell, for instance, urged businesses to do more than just rely on regularly updated antivirus software.

Viruses such as Sobig.F, which propagated using spammer-style techniques, including grabbing addresses from infected users' systems to trick additional recipients into opening the file attachment payload, mean companies should pay more attention to defending the SMTP gateway, Hallawell said.

Among her recommendations: advising companies to subscribe to vulnerability alerts so administrators can block ports and servers, as attacks are only getting off the ground; to examine SMTP servers' security to insure that they can't be hijacked; and to add personal firewall protection to desktops as a back-up for server-based antivirus protection.

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