Good news for the statisticians out there: 2004 has already passed all previous high-water marks for virus writers. Sophos said it has added signatures for 4,677 new viruses in the first six months of the year, though many of those were lab samples rather than in the wild.
Of the top scorers (primarily Sasser, Netsky, Bagle, and MyDoom), blame for about 70 per cent has been laid at the feet of Sven Jaschan, a German teenager who admitted to writing Sasser and being a member of Skynet, which distributed Netsky.
And with considerably more than 70 per cent of virus activity happening within a single company's products, CERT and others have argued the case for switching browsers to, well, anything other than Internet Explorer (IE). Whether this has any real long-term impact remains to be seen (see our News analysis, p14).
Looking for signs of a trend, we turned to our website to produce our own statistics. We looked at the reported numbers for groups of browsers and platforms, going back over the past six months.
Sure enough, the IE figures have dropped by five per cent in the past six months, to 69 per cent. And Windows (every version from XP to 98) has dropped the same amount, also to 69 per cent.
Several factors will skew those figures. Many non-IE users identify themselves as IE on Windows, for example, since that combination is "required" by many websites. This is easily accomplished – browsers send a user-agent identifier to web servers, and more capable browsers offer the ability to change this. On the flip side, most search engines are identified as non-IE browsers, which will increase those figures.
Nevertheless, the numbers are interesting. In the security space, it is not surprising to see a relatively high proportion using browsers other than IE, and Unix-oriented platforms. But Microsoft's share is still a lot lower than we would expect, by at least 10-15 per cent.
Out in the wider internet world, web server stats are changing less dramatically. Netcraft's August survey shows the trend of slow movement continuing, with Apache growing at others' expense (mainly IIS, but also Sun and Zeus servers), but the growth is only in fractions of a per cent each month. Apache is now sitting at 67.47 per cent market share, according to Netcraft.
Isolated security concerns are unlikely to impact Microsoft's market share much. XP Service Pack 2 is expected to address many security problems in the near term, and the company is working hard on its tarnished security reputation across the board. Meanwhile, competitors are growing in their audacity. The Mozilla Foundation has announced a bounty of $500 to anyone who discovers a severe security flaw in its flagship browser.
Have security concerns made you or your users change your browsing habits? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon Tullett is UK and online editor for SC Magazine