Attack of the mutant internet worms

Wednesday, 6 August 2003, 10:14 AM EST

Internet worms that spread themselves through corporate networks or e-mail programs, wreaking havoc on thousands of computers, are growing faster, smaller and more virulent, a security expert has said. One theoretical attack could be so-called "flash worms" designed to spread across the Internet in as little as 15 seconds by splitting themselves into ever smaller pieces to infect as many computers as possible, Jonathan Wignall, chairman of the U.K.'s Data and Network Security Council warned.

Another potential threat is a worm that spreads so slowly that no one notices it has even arrived, Wignall said following a speech to a major computer security conference. The worm might slowly build a large infection base, which could be activated in the future, he said on the sidelines of DefCon, a three-day gathering in Las Vegas that drew 5,000 security experts to the largest annual conference for Internet defense.

Worms are a more virulent form of computer virus because they seek out new computers to infect on their own rather than needing to piggyback on other programs to propagate. Internet worms typically spread through e-mail programs, like Melissa in 1999 and Love Letter in 2000, or through holes in software, like Code Red and Nimbda in 2001, which exploited flaws in Microsoft programs.

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