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Latest computer virus count: Does more malware mean greater threat?

With the number of viruses reaching an all-time high, how should enterprises react to sustain information security? Threats expert Nick Lewis weighs in.

According to a recent McAfee Threat Report, the number of known viruses has reached an all-time high. What are the practical implications for enterprises? Does the overall number matter, or does the sheer volume of viruses greatly increase the risk of infection and necessitate an investment in additional defenses?

While it's true that, according to McAfee Inc.'s latest computer virus count, the number of known viruses has reached an all-time high, the number has been increasing rapidly for the last couple years, frequently breaking records. Unfortunately, the overall number does matter because, typically, each sample requires some sort of analysis by the antimalware industry, followed by updated signatures for detection that must be sent to customers. Antimalware vendors are having a hard time keeping up with the malware increase, as it is difficult to create and push out updates to all customers in a timely manner.

Along with the drastic increase in the number of unique malware specimens identified, there have also been advancements in the effectiveness of malware at bypassing antimalware software and of monetizing the informavc tion it exploits.

The rapid rise in the number of unique malware, coupled with advances in malware sophistication, does necessitate investments in additional defenses. Some antimalware vendors are adding additional capabilities like centralized management to their core products , and some are releasing add-on products to incorporate reputation-based detection, which gauges whether an application or service is commonly used and therefore likely to be safe, or cloud-augmented detection , which can speed up detection and utilize fewer client resources.

In response, some companies are investing in application whitelisting technologies and making concerted efforts to harden their systems to decrease their vulnerability to malware. Along with these client-based protections, there have been advances in network-based protections that add a tool to prevent malware from infecting systems by identifying malicious code when it is downloaded and blocking it. Using both approaches will help provide defense-in-depth to protect your network and client systems.

This was last published in October 2010

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