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Tuesday, August 14, 2001, updated at 14:18(GMT+8)

Code Red Spells No Danger for Computer Users

Online China remained in robust health last night despite doomsday predictions it was about to go down with a nasty bug.

Speculation had mounted that Code Red II, the world's most vicious cyber worm ever, was about to unleash another all-out assault Monday.

But Chinese anti-virus watchdogs said the bug was firmly in check, easing fears of a potentially costly blow to business.

"We have stayed on track to monitor any outbreaks in the past 12 days and I have not seen any big-bang in China so far, though emergency calls are up and running,'' said Liang Hong, an engineer at the government-funded National Computer Virus Emergency Resource Centre (NCVERC).

The speculation came as the bug, a more nasty sibling of Code Red which generated wide-spread computer crunches in June, crashed more than 200 servers, mostly belonging to IT firms and websites between July 31 and August 8.

But Xia Ji, a cyber anti-virus warrior in China, said fears could be realized because more worm bites are likely to be reported on the first day of the working week than over the weekend when most people were off.

"I don't see any sharp rise. Computer users can preempt many viruses now by downloading softwares,'' said Xia, an engineer of Kingsoft Co Ltd, a Beijing-based anti-virus software producer.

However, experts stressed the real number of servers in China hit by the bug will be more than officially recorded as many computer users affected did not register for help.

A recent survey by Chinese anti-virus authorities found 73 per cent of computers in China have been struck at least once by cyber bugs, and only 10 per cent, or 1 million sets of computers, have put up defences.

But Liang said the Code Red II issue may prove a blessing in disguise by forcing system operators into taking action to prevent net worms.

Nevertheless, menaces loom.

Unlike its former peers like CIH, SIRCAM and the infamous "I love You'' bug, which snagged individual computers for a defined period, the Code Red series are targeting Internet servers and the network, using servers to spread the contagions while colluding with hackers.

"The new bugs are combining all the piths of the predecessors while teaming up with hackers, giving hackers access to remote control on the attacked servers,'' said Xia.

That scenario has sounded a wake-up call to anti-bug task forces.

"We should not just focus on protecting one computer and just put up some defensive measures. We need to act more aggressively,'' Xia added.

That is what anti-virus firms are aspiring to as fears of bugs have opened a new opportunity for lucrative business in China.

Leading firms like Kingsoft, Jiangmin Technology, Rising and Symantec have reported growing sales of anti-virus products in the last few days, with some companies reporting up to 60 per cent growth in sales.

"Increasing public awareness about anti-virus solutions will be a boon for the domestic industry whose business has been in a relative slump during the past few years. It will be a sign of rejuvenation,'' said Liu Yanlin, a software expert in Beijing.

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Online China remained in robust health last night despite doomsday predictions it was about to go down with a nasty bug.

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