Well, if you’re reading this, you’ve apparently survived the Conficker Disaster of 2009. Congratulations!
Actually, the Conficker worm, which has been quietly distributing itself across Windows PCs since 2008, was supposed to start phoning home Wednesday. Reports are conflicted whether or not anything has actually happened yet. Most experts agree that it could be a few days until the effects of the virus are known, though predictions run the gamut from a simple botnet that will send more spam or commit DDoS attacks to more sinister actions like stealing credit card information.
While the whole Conficker situation could be a very elaborate but harmless April Fool’s joke, the fact that everyone is so worked up into a frenzy over it shows that computer viruses are still as much of a threat in the ever-connected, ever-computerized world we live in now as they have been.
Last week marked ten years since the first “malware” virus, the Melissa virus, first started wrecking havoc on users’ computers and overloading email systems. While viruses that hijack email clients and propagate by mailing copies of themselves to everyone in address book are largely extinct now, the Melissa virus was a real problem in 1999.
Dmitry Gryaznov, a member of the original McAfee team who discovered and tracked down the Melissa virus, points out that “Ten years ago, malware writers were interested in creating a name for themselves. It’s a vastly different picture today. Cybercriminals are financially-driven; they’re eager to steal personal information and cash-in on the cyber attacks.” It’s true that most viruses in the past were about being flashy, like by deleting important system files. Most viruses today are Trojan programs that watch your computer in the background to steal credit card information and passwords that could lead to identity theft.
It’s important to point out that running a decent virus scanner or just installing the patches that Windows pushes out over Windows Update would have prevented this whole situation from ever happening. Of course, if you’re on a blog like this one, you probably already knew this-or you just run OS X. And if you haven’t, go scan your system-NOW. There are lots of free (http://free.avg.com/) and open source (http://www.clamwin.com/) tools available, so there are no excuses.