Inoculating Against Future Pc Viruses

The more computers your office desktop communicates with, the more likely it is to pick up a computer virus. These mischievous and sometimes devastating programs, usually planted by unscrupulous hackers, can spread--undetected--through your computer system and leave unwanted messages or even erase files. And the problem may only grow as more businesses connect to on-line services and the Internet. Antivirus programs can help, but most of them can only detect known viruses and must be updated frequently. Generic programs that scan for suspicious activity have only mixed reliability.

At a recent Artificial Life conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers from IBM revealed a solution they're developing: an immune system for computers that is modeled after biological immune systems. When an unknown program appears or an unexpected change occurs in your computer, the immune program would launch decoy programs and see if they become infected. If so, that would confirm the presence of a virus. In addition to erasing the virus, the immune program would also extract from the infected decoy a virus "signature," or tell-tale piece of its programming, and keep it to help detect future infections from similar viruses. The IBM researchers say the program will be built into IBM software beginning next year.

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