Is the Conficker scare over?

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As the work day comes to an end on April 1, it seems the Conficker threat was much ado about nothing.

The malicious computer worm, which has crept into millions of PCs, contained a countdown to Wednesday. Unsure exactly what the code would do after activating, software-security experts worked around the clock to defend computers against the mystery danger. Well, the Internet is still standing. Now what?

Potential computer disasters often end in a fizzle. Remember Y2K? In a way, the bigger the computer scare, the less there is to be scared of. Particularly devious code provokes more earnest efforts to disarm it.

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Computerworld points out that:

"All of their work has gone for naught," said Alfred Huger, vice president of development for Symantec Corp.'s security response team, referring to the hackers who created the Conficker worm.
Ironically, it was the extraordinary success of Conficker that made the hackers' work essentially a wasted effort, Huger said. "Most of the work done on Conficker was because of all the attention it got, absolutely," he said, pointing to the drumbeat of coverage since the worm first surfaced in November 2008 and the frenzy that led up to today, when its newest variant started switching to a new communications scheme.

Still, Conficker could bubble up in the news again. The code is particularly insidious. While its designers programmed April 1 as a deadline, Conficker can quickly change tactics. Here's a quick explanation of how.

"The hackers can tell their worm to do something any day of the year; they're just as likely to do it tomorrow or next Wednesday or in August," Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant with Sophos, told CNET.

So, even if the Web's stewards are breathing a little easier tonight, you should still stay vigilant. Download the latest security patches. Trend Micro, Symantec, and McAfee each have free information on how to protect against Conficker and future malicious software. Also, several anti-virus experts have suggested that people avoid doing a general Google search on the topic. Opportunistic scoundrels have set up scams and booby-trapped pages, which could infect a computer instead of protecting it.

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