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Protecting the Future
Mary Landesman

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Year 2000 concerns have underscored our dependence on computers to provide our most basic needs. Corporations and government agencies rely on computers to provide electricity, access to funds, telephones, gasoline, medical care, and food. Compounding the problem is the vast hidden network that connects these resources. Computers form an integrated global network, no longer restricted to physical connections. This interconnectivity enables us to internationally participate with vendors, suppliers, and customers. This global participation is ingrained to such extent that it often goes unnoticed until a disruption occurs. Last year, 90% of all pagers in the United States were inoperable due to a failure of a single satellite. This was not because 90% of all users had the same provider; rather, that 90% of all pagers were interconnected via the satellite network. It is this same interdependency, on a global front, that threatens to make the Y2K bug a crisis. Unfortunately, this interconnectivity causes threats in other areas as well. The new breed Melissa virus underscored our dependency on, and vulnerability through, E-mail.

Funk & Wagnall's dictionary describes a virus as "any of a class of filterable, submicroscopic pathogenic agents, typically inert except when in contact with certain living cells". Likewise, computer viruses lie undetected on the system until some legitimate action causes them to execute and infect other programs. Depending on their programmed action, or "payload", the effects can range from benign to severe, and the same payload that appears benign to one user can have serious implications for another. A virus that simply stops the computer until a key is pressed to continue operation might be considered a benign annoyance to a home-user. On a life-support system in a hospital, however, it could threaten lives. A macro virus that randomly replaces or changes legitimate text in a Word document might cause only embarrassment or irritation to many users, but what if the document contained names and addresses of heart-transplant recipients on a waiting list?

Today's interdependent networks provide an ideal infecting ground for computer viruses. Just as solving the Y2K problem requires global participation, preventing the spread of computer viruses requires responsible behavior from all users. Because new viruses are introduced at a rate in excess of 200 per month, the precautions require a methodical, consistent approach. Many of us carefully inspect our car tires for signs of wear and replace them routinely. We carry a spare tire in our trunk, subscribe to roadside assistance providers for emergency service, and have regular maintenance performed to ensure the car's safety and performance. Likewise, we purchase alarm systems and insurance. We take these precautions, in spite of the fact that, if our car were to fail, we have easy access to many other modes of transportation. Our computer data, however, is not easily repairable or replaceable, yet most of us do not maintain our equipment, perform backups, or take precautions against the high-risk threat of computer viruses. Simple and effective protection of data is essential. Unlike the automobile, however, the type of protection needed constantly changes. How then, are users to remain protected?

In the past, every virus was analyzed and detection was done by teaching the scanner to recognize individual characteristics. Like suspects in a police lineup, the scanner searched target files for known offenders and alerted users to their presence. These signature files were updated each time new viruses were discovered. Presently, far too many viruses are released to rely on pattern identification alone. The scanner had to be engineered to recognize behavior as well. Anti-virus vendors quickly created what are commonly referred to as heuristic or behavior scanners. Essentially, each of these claims to detect virus-like behavior in a file prior to allowing its execution on the system. As seen with the Melissa virus, many of these engines are unable to meet the challenge of today's virus threats. The only major vendor to detect the Melissa virus, with no special updates, was Command AntiVirus�. Though the virus had just been released and was thus unknown, Command AntiVirus' HoloCheck™ technology accurately detected the file as being infected and warned users not to execute it - thus preventing the infection and subsequent spread among Command Anti-Virus users.

Unfortunately for those who used other vendors' anti-virus software, the effects were the same as if they were using no anti-virus protection at all - they facilitated the instantaneous spread of the virus. Melissa forced corporations worldwide to shut down their operations - in spite of the fact that pattern signature files were released by the other vendors within a matter of hours. The virus exemplified the need to have a strong offensive. Countering a virus such as Melissa, after it has already infected, is, quite simply, an unaffordable risk in today's global network.

With a forecasted doubling of viruses every year and a new breed of sophisticated viruses taking advantage of the Internet, the challenge of maintaining a secure, autonomous system has never been more critical.

Command Software Systems has proven capability in protecting against this hostile environment. Command AntiVirus and its powerful HoloCheck technology work together to break the chains of interdependency - ensuring your data is safe and your system is always virus-free.


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