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The Growing Malware Problem

On Friday I’m lecturing at Dartmouth College to the TISH workgroup (Trustworthy Information Systems for Healthcare) about the growing malware problem we’re all facing.

Have you ever seen a Zombie film?   If so, you know that to stop Zombies you must shoot them in the head – the only problem is that the steady stream of Zombies never seems to end and they keep infecting others.   Just when you’ve eradicated every Zombie but one, the infection gets transmitted and the problem returns.   You spend your day shooting them but you never seem to make any progress.

A Zombie in computer science is a computer connected to the Internet that has been compromised by a cracker, computer virus or trojan horse and can be used to perform malicious tasks of one sort or another under remote direction.

Starting in March of 2011, the rise in malware on the internet has created millions of zombie computers.   Experts estimate that 48% of all computers on the internet are infected.   Malware is transmitted from infected photos (Heidi Klum is the most dangerous celebrity on the internet this year),  infected PDFs, infected Java files,  ActiveX controls that take advantage of Windows/Internet Explorer vulnerabilities and numerous other means.

Here’s the problem – the nature of this new malware is that it is hard to detect (often hiding on hard disk boot tracks), it’s hard to remove (often requiring complete reinstallation of the operating system), and anti-virus software no longer works against it.

A new virus is released on the internet every 30 seconds.   Modern viruses contain self modifying code.  The “signature” approaches used in anti-virus software to rapidly identify known viruses, does not work with this new generation of malware.

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