Computer viruses mimic the real thing

A year long study by Dr Rod Daniels of the National Institute of Medical Research, working with anti-virus firm McAfee, has discovered parallels in structure and infection patterns in viruses that infect people and PCs.

‘Studies of medical viruses have been conducted for decades whereas computer virus fighting is comparatively new, said Dr. Daniels. ‘But I believe there are many things we can learn from each other.’

The report, Virtual Virology, will be distributed to medical and computer virus research teams worldwide, with the aim of sharing experience and expertise to help unearth further clues to combat viruses in their respective fields.

Both types of viruses have similar structures, being made up of building blocks, and disguise themselves in order to infiltrate host new systems. Anti-virus software and human immune systems also work in a similar way, learning from exposure to fight off new types of virus.

They even have similar infection patterns, by following the sun from East to West. “Releasing a virus in Asia means that by the time it reaches Europe and the US it has built momentum,” said Jack Clark, a consultant with McAfee.

It was also found that the internet has accelerated the spread of computer viruses in the same way as air travel has increased the risk of viral epidemics.

‘The research made us take a biological look at viruses,’ said Clark. ‘We realised that medical research companies are better at risk-assessment of viruses.

‘Every anti-virus company has its own collection of viruses and gives them different names whereas the medical world has a central repository and uses recognised criteria to place viruses in hazard groups to help prioritise work and alert the public about dangers.

‘We could serve customers better if we did the same by ending confusion. Speed is of the essence and if a company is chasing after two separate viruses which are actually the same then time is being wasted.’

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