The next major virus will be at least 15 times as destructive as Nimda – which George Samenuk, CEO of Network Associates, calls the most sophisticated virus he has ever seen. But despite his own prophecy, he still opens unsolicited e-mail attachments.

“Computers were designed by humans and they are used by humans and people get my e-mail and I open up stuff,” Samenuk said. “Sure, maybe I shouldn’t, but I want to know what’s in there and I am CEO of one of the largest security companies in the world.”

Samenuk, who became CEO of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Network Associates Inc. just over a year ago, was in Toronto recently promoting his company’s security software, which include the McAfee suite of products, Sniffer technologies and the Magic Service Desk Suite.

“Every large company, every government agency gets attacked every day,” he said. “Nimda showed us things we never thought were possible because it was very sophisticated and written by a computer genius. Nimda scared the heck out of us and half the world was shut down.”

Viruses get into companies and shut them down because of what Samenuk calls the “big myth of the industry.”

“The myth in this whole IT security story for customers is that once they put in firewalls, they are okay,” he said, adding that Network Associates is coming out with a personal desktop firewall that will be managed by a single console. “Things get through firewalls.”

But Larry Karnis, president of Brampton, Ont.-based consultant firm Application Enhancements Inc., said the big key for consumer faith is getting rid of an old problem with virus software.

“Antivirus software by its very nature is intrusive and it gets right under the sheets with the operating system and I have seen a number of computer failures as a result of the anti-virus software not cooperating well with the system,” he said.

Gus Malezis, vice-president of sales for Network Associates in Canada, said security has to become more of a priority for company managers to avoid a repeat of Nimda’s destruction.

“If a 16-year-old can take down the world, does that mean we have really bright 16-year-olds or does it mean that we weren’t on the ball thinking about security,” he said. “I think it’s the latter.”

Software programmers were thinking about features and functions and not thinking about security, Malezis said.

“We are at the edge, waiting for the next virus,” Samenuk agreed. “There is one out there right now.”

That virus is the Klez worm, according to antivirus firms F-Secure Corp. and Central Command Inc. The companies warn users that the worm, which can delete files, halts the work of security programs and spreads itself when an infected e-mail is opened. Users are urged to update antivirus definitions and scan their machines as soon as possible.