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Worms back at top of Microsoft threat list

Long dismissed as a security scare of the past, Internet worms appear to have made a strong comeback, jumping to take the top two places on Microsoft's latest threat list.

According to Microsoft's latest Security Intelligence Report (SIR) Volume 7, which covers the period from January to June 2009, old-style mass-infection worms have doubled between the second half of 2008 and the first half of this year.

The rise appears to be down to only two main offenders, Conficker, and the second the less well-known but almost as significant, Taterf. The well-publicised Conficker showed up 5.217 million times during scans carried out by the company in the first half of this year, with Taterf not far behind on 4.911 million infections. Overall, Trojans are still the top threat type but no single Trojan achieved numbers as high as either worm, with the nearest, Renos, on 3.323 million infections.

Worms have steadily declined in importance over the last decade, so why the resurgence, and why now?

According to Microsoft UK security head, Cliff Evans, there are two possible explanations - gaming and fashion. Taterf, in particular, is aimed at players of online multi-player games, attempting to steal login credentials. As with all worms, old or new, its most effective weapon is its ferocious ability to spread at great speed, looking for and infecting any drive connected to the host PC, including networked drives.

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