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Virus writers exploit human weaknesses

Heidi Rose


Virus writers who have caused millions of pounds of damage to corporate IT systems this year rely on weaknesses in human psychology, according to research from anti-virus specialist Sophos.

The most prolific computer viruses over the past six months, including Loveletter, Joke and Life Stages, have all relied on flawed office culture as much as technical innovation, the research said.

Such viruses have proved by far the most damaging to business, despite their technical simplicity.

The recent spate of virus attacks all rely on the same basic flaw in human nature, said consultant psychologist Robert Edelman.

Edelman said the virus developers' technological brilliance is matched by their psychological assessment that only something in an e-mail that appears to be very personal, or that stands out as alien from standard work-related communications, could simultaneously grab the attention of the user and lead them to disregard safe computing guidelines.

"The brilliant psychological ploy of hackers ensured the viruses' widespread and devastating success," he said.

Sophos technical director Jan Hruska said the success of Loveletter was not due to its technical brilliance. "It was sloppily written, but still the most successful combination of psychology and technology we have seen to date."


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