Virus Damage Worst on Record for August 2003

Thanks to the havoc that Sobig-F and the Blaster worms wreaked, August reportedly has gone down as the worst month in digital history for virus attacks.

In August 2003, viruses, along with overt and covert hacker attacks, caused $32.8 billion in economic damages, according to a report from mi2g, a digital risk assessment company based in London. Mi2g also notes that the Sobig virus alone accounted for $29.7 billion of economic damages worldwide.

“August damage figures tower well above all previous months since our records began in 1995,” says D.K. Matai, executive chairman of mi2g. “The whole issue of trustworthy computing is now at stake.”

The mi2g Intelligence Unit’s preliminary investigation has concluded that the most likely motivation for Sobig is financial and it can be interpreted as a sophisticated research and test tool deployed by a seasoned programmer within the spam generation or “contact database theft” community.

“Judging by the massive growth in spam being sent over the past five years, this is clearly a lucrative business,” said Matai. “With valid and up-to-date email addresses becoming a valuable commodity, virus writers are likely to be prolific in seeking to obtain large numbers of email addresses and contact information through their malware just as hackers are already leveraging their skills in stealing credit card numbers and personal profiles.”

The release of Sobig may have been intended as an experiment for ascertaining the degree of disruption that could result from the release of a major virus of this type, with the ultimate purpose of timing a future release to coincide with a massive spam campaign or – at a more malevolent level – a major disruptive attack on a civilian population such as a blackout or explosion.

Mi2g also reports that Sobig has become the most damaging virus on record, overtaking malicious rivals Klez, Love Bug and Yaha. The Klez worm has been pushed to second place on the infamous list, causing $13.9 billion worth of damage. The Love Bug is now in the third position, accounting for $8.75 billion in damages.

Chris Belthoff, a senior security analyst with Sophos, Inc., an anti-virus company based in Lynfield, Mass., says August will go down in the record books – just as it will go down in the memories of the anti-virus experts and IT managers who had to battle the virus onslaught.

“August 2003 will be remembered as one of the worst months in the history of computer security,” says Belthoff. “The Sobig-F worm clogged up inboxes and crippled networks with the sheer volume of email traffic it produced. Users and companies should remain on guard and put systems in place to protect against future attacks.”

Sobig-F, the latest member of the malicious Sobig virus family, hit the Internet hard, flooding email servers and inboxes. Corporate networks staggered under the barrage with network access slowing to a crawl, and some email systems being taken temporarily offline to stop the siege.

Sobig-F is designed to die out on Sep. 10. That’s leading many analysts to suspect that the next variant will hit on Sep. 11 or soon after. And if that variant builds on the malicious success of Sobig-F, then the damage could be even worse.

With all that damage under its belt, it’s no wonder that Sobig-F topped the charts for the most frequently occurring virus in August 2003, according to both Sophos and Central Command, Inc., an anti-virus company based in Medina, Ohio.

Related reading