RealTime IT News

Businesses, Not Homes, Hit Hardest By Virus

A study released this week found U.S. businesses bore the brunt of the "I Love You" e-mail worm that caused anywhere from $2.5 billion to $5 billion in damages.

The virus, a VBScript worm that utilized a direct mailing feature in Microsoft Outlook and led to downed e-mail servers and damaged media files, is believed to have originated in the Philippines. Ultimately, some experts believe damages may reach $10 billion.

The poll, conducted by Angus Reid Group and underwritten by Symantec Corp., found that workplaces were hit hard and suffered a significant loss of productivity. About 26 percent of those with Internet access at work reported that their companies were exposed to the virus and about 47 percent of that group reported computer systems were damaged as a result, the Angus Reid report said. Of those exposed, 9 percent said damage was controlled but productivity suffered because systems were shut down to eliminate the worm's potential for destruction.

"All told, nearly half of all workplaces with Internet access "got sick" from the "ILOVEYOU" e-mail," the report said.

Only about 3 percent of Americans with Internet access at home were attacked by the virus.

Edward Morawski, of the Angus Reid Group, said he was most surprised by the small number of Americans with Internet access at home that were affected given the widespared damage to businesses. Still, he noted 3 percent of U.S. households with Internet access amounts to 1.5 million.

"That's an enormous difference," he said in an interview. "That really caught us off guard. I think it simply speaks to the use of e-mail far more frequently in the workplace than it ever is at home."

The poll also found that people questioned were more confident in the computer industry's ability -- rather than the government or large corporations -- to control the damage caused by hackers spreading viruses. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they were confident the computer industry could control damage while 44 percent said they were not confident. Respondents had the lowest confidence in the government; 43 percent were confident in the government's ability to control damage while 55 percent said they were not. Forty-nine percent of respondents were confident in the ability of large corporations while 48 percent said they were not confident.

"I think that people tend to believe that the Internet is such an accelerating technology and that the government as an organization is probably too slow to act as a watchdog," Morawski said, noting that was his conclusion, not a conclusion of the poll. As for why respondents were most confident in the computer industry's ability to control damage, Morawski said, "It's probably because they have the skills and the speed to react quickest."

The poll also found that Americans were evenly divided on the seriousness of the threat that viruses present to future growth and use of the Internet. Fully 50 percent of those questioned felt computer viruses pose a serious threat, while 46 percent felt viruses are bound to happen on occasion but pose no long-term threat to the Internet's future.

"We were surprised that it was such an even split," Morawski said.

He added that 40 percent of people who considered themselves expert or very skilled with computers and the Internet felt viruses are a serious threat.

"It's a prevalent view and it's probably a pretty hard-held one."

However, Morawski said Angus Reid has not conducted polls about the seriousness of viruses in the past and has no benchmark to measure the results against.

"This is something that we're going to be tracking as these attacks happen," Morawski said. "It's going to be interesting to see if their breadth increases or decreases."

The results were collected by Angus Reid EXPRESS, a nationally representative survey conduct