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A major slump has occurred in e-mail messages containing malware in the first six months of this year as against the same period last year, states a research report by Sophos PLC, an antivirus firm providing malware solutions.

"E-mail, as far as viruses are concerned, is actually safer than it was last year" says Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant of Sophos. Latest statistics reveal that a virus, worm or other bad software was witnessed in about one in 91 e-mail messages this year. This is considerably less when compared to last year's figure of 1 in every 35 e-mail messages.

Malware writers are coming up with new malicious programs and software that aims to avoid detection. They are laying low in their spam campaigns, and have shifted their focus from mass virus laden e-mails to fewer large batches of e-mails targeting specific groups. When masses of virus laden e-mails are sent out it gives the opportunity to antivirus companies like Sophos to get samples of the malware to work on. They use this information and immediately update their client's software. This hampers the effectiveness of the malware attack.

It has also been witnessed that malware writers are more inclined towards Trojan horse programs, a class of malicious software that has programs like Keyloggers, which can record and steal the personal information of computer users without their knowledge. 81% of new malware on the net are Trojan horse programs, and these, unlike viruses, do not replicate themselves.

Many older malware codes are still doing the rounds on the Internet in large numbers. Industry experts attribute this to the laid back approach adopted by hackers.

Netsky-P and Zafi-B occupy the second and third position on the Sopho's Top 10 list of malware. These malicious programs have been around for the past couple of years and are still responsible for a lot of the virus menace.

Sober-Z, the most common malware for 2006, was active only for the first six days of the year, but it spread around in such great quantities that it is still hampering a lot of systems, appearing in some 22.4 percent of viral e-mail. Another virus, called the Mytob with its four variations is also on the Top 10 list. It appears in some 28.7% of viral e-mail.

Related article: Malware Authors Turn More Insidious

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