Why should anti-virus products employ heuristic detection?

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Once upon a time, in a galaxy not so far away, there were only a few computer viruses. Little more than a curiosity to most, they were relatively rare, slow spreading and in general, more of a mythological threat than a real one. The initial anti-virus products that were created to deal with these were perfectly adequate; updated once a month or so, the customers could be fairly sure that they would be protected. Fast-forward to today’s interconnected and always-on world, and the scale of the problem is orders of magnitude above where it was back in those early days.

New viruses can infect hundreds or thousands of machines within hours or in cases such as the SQL Slammer worm, mere minutes. Traditionally, anti-virus programs are reactive; they work on the basis of scanning for things they already know about. They can't detect a new virus until they have ...

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