FOR MOST PEOPLE, Inter- net viruses and service attacks are an obnoxious nuisance. For computer security companies, they're big business.
Symantec, the maker of Norton products, saw its stock skyrocket this year after several well-publicized Internet attacks. It started this year trading at about $41 per share and jumped to about $67 last month. It also reported $1.4 billion in annual revenue.
The 21-year-old software company, along with competitors like McAfee, Trend Micro, and Computer Associates, has become the first line of defense against viruses and worms. Symantec claims that the number of automated vandals rose 20 percent in the first half of 2003 compared to the previous year. (Last January's "Slammer" worm accounted for 78 percent of all attack activity.) Just over half of all attacks came from inside the United States.
Symantec claims the biggest threat right now comes from "blended attacks," or programs that use more than one security flaw to do damage. Experts say the first such attack was in 1988, but the tactic became more widespread as the Internet grew.
Symantec and Microsoft are starting a joint educational campaign to smarten up the average PC user. The message: Take basic precautions (such as updating anti-virus software and operating systems regularly), and the likelihood of infection drops substantially.