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Is PC Virus Fear Breeding More Attacks?

Hands up if you’ve ever had a PC virus? Yup, thought so. It’s a ubiquitous and persistent problem that’s dogged Microsoft and its users for decades. Now Microsoft’s published a security report that sheds an interesting light on the situation: Fear of viruses is probably causing more virus attacks.

Hands up if you’ve ever had a PC virus? Yup, thought so. It’s a ubiquitous and persistent problem that’s dogged Microsoft and its users for decades. Now Microsoft’s published a security report that sheds an interesting light on the situation: Fear of viruses is probably causing more virus attacks.

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The situation is a classic vicious circle: Fear of an issue causes people to modify their behavior so that the issue is actually worsened. In Microsoft’s case, it begins with fake anti-virus software, or simply advertising for such, which users click on to protect their system from malware, thereby infecting their systems. Microsoft’s recent Security Intelligence Report states that of the top 25 viruses that attacked computers running Windows software over the last six months, seven were malware scams masquerading as security software, better known as “scareware.”

Microsoft operating system is so popular it’s become a huge target for virus writers, and its user base is so diverse it includes just as many who consider themselves computer “novices” as experts. As a result, a perfect avenue has been created for new malware to gain access to the system.

Last week there were fears that a newly-energized virus, Conficker.C, would activate thousands of already infected Windows machines, leading to chaos. Although things didn’t turn out as badly as expected–Conficker merely upgraded itself and “dug in” to the infected machines even further–it was widely publicized. Microsoft security head George Stathakopulous explained in the new report that it’s possible public worries about Conficker actually contributed to increased virus attacks.

It’s difficult to see what Microsoft can do about this situation, as everyone already knows about the tarnished security reputation of Windows and other Microsoft products–it even plays into the long-running “Mac versus PC” debate. What is clear is that with even the company itself admitting viruses are a spiraling problem, the security installed into the upcoming Windows 7 OS had better be iron-clad so the need for third-party security solutions is reduced. And if the OS is programmed to be unobtrusive when running, and carefully implemented so it doesn’t call too much user attention to itself if it does catch a virus, then eventually Microsoft’s public reputation with regards to viruses could improve.

[via Reuters

Images are computer viruses rendered as art by Alex Dragulescu.

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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