Machine Vaccine

Antiviral software programs are installed to protect computer systems, but if the software isn’t updated constantly by IT specialists (which takes time) and users don’t activate the software when they’re supposed to (which takes cajoling), the next computer virus down the pike could strike like the deadly Eboli.

Symantec, a utility software company in Cupertino, Calif., joined forces with IBM Corp.’s Watson Research Center in Hawthorne, N.Y., and Yorktown Heights, N.Y., to create a total antiviral system. How does it work? Just as vaccinations are used to immunize our bodies from harmful diseases, the Digital Immune System was designed to stop unknown viruses before they have a chance to spread.

Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus software is installed on an individual’s PC or Mac, where it scans files for viruses. If it finds known viruses, it offers users options to repair or delete the offending file. When an unknown virus is detected – through suspiciously acting code or similarity to other viruses – the system alerts the user’s IT department and an IT specialist then sends a viral sample to a secure system at Symantec’s Antivirus Research Center in Santa Monica, Calif. There, the virus is replicated and analysed automatically on a secure system.

According to Kate Brew, director of product marketing at Tivoli Systems Inc., a division of IBM, the system is designed to cure 90 per cent of all viral infections without any human intervention within 24 hours. Once the system develops a “cure”, it e-mails it to the afflicted company’s IT department. From there the cure is disseminated to user desktops as it is needed.

The beauty of the Digital Immune System is that it will send the cure to all other companies that are also members of the system. Vaccinations have never been this painless.

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