Survey: Virus siege increases on feds' servers, PCs

Computer viruses are spreading despite the presence of prophylactic programs, according
to a study by the International Computer Security Association.

The incidents reported for January and February this year jumped 48 percent from the
same period last year, even though 91 percent of respondents’ servers and 98 percent
of their PCs reportedly had antivirus software.

The results of the 1998 Computer Virus Prevalence Survey are a wake-up call, said Larry
Bridwell, product development manager for the Carlisle, Pa., association.

“We know viruses won’t go away,” Bridwell said. “They’re a
fact of life.” The fact that so many infections were reported shows that monitoring
tools are working better, he said.

Meanwhile, the impact of infections appears to be softening. For the one-third of
respondents who reported a simultaneous infection in 25 or more machines or files, average
server downtime dropped from 348 minutes in 1996 to 43 minutes in 1998. The average cost
of such incidents fell from $8,100 to $2,454.

ICSA surveyed 300 sites that had 581,458 desktop PCs and 12,122 servers. No Apple
Macintosh machines were counted. Almost one-third of respondents worked at 93 government
sites, the single largest group in the survey.

Although ICSA claimed a 95 percent degree of confidence with a range of plus or minus
5.6 percent, internal consistency checks revealed that some of the respondents’
answers could be off by as much as 50 percent, Bridwell said.

The most accurate parts of the survey, he said, probably are the figures for January
and February, immediately preceding the survey. They showed an average of 31.8 infections
per 1,000 computers a month for the first two months of 1998, up sharply from 1997 and

Macro viruses, which consist of instructions in Microsoft Word Basic or some other
macro language, accounted for the lion’s share of infections.

The most prevalent macro viruses were the Concept family, followed by Wazzu and Cap

The survey said disks still are the most common path for infection, although e-mail
infections are growing.

ICSA concluded that the main reason for the rise in infections appears to be
ineffective antivirus policies, Bridwell said.

The recommendations from the latest survey are the same as those from earlier
studies—namely, proper installation and periodic updating of reliable antivirus
products, he said.

Policies for e-mail and disk use, file downloading and remote access also need to be
established and enforced, he said.

The 105-page report appears on ICSA’s Web site at

A printed version can be obtained for $19.95 from the group’s Professional
Resources Library by calling 717-241-3210. 

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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