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A survey conducted by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security shows that approximately 85 percent of computers in the country have been infected with a virus this year. That number is up 25 percent from 2001. And as many as a third of China's computers may have been hit by the Sobig-F worm, which struck this past August.
But that's not just a problem for the Chinese. Chris Belthoff, a senior security analyst with Lynnfield, Mass.-based Sophos, Inc., an anti-virus company, says any major virus infestation in a country as wired as China means that problem will travel to U.S. corporate networks.
''Computer viruses are like true biological viruses,'' says Belthoff. ''You may have a strong pocket of high infection somewhere in the world and the likelihood of it spread is really high now because we're all so interconnected. If one area of the world isn't so security aware, it will cause problems for the rest of the world, as well.
Belthoff also says that since Sobig-F hit China so hard, it most likely helped spread the virus here in the U.S. and in Europe.
''We don't know for sure but it's certainly possible,'' says Belthoff. ''Remember, the nature of Sobig is that it's a mass-mailing worm, so if it infects a system it sends a copy out to every address on that system. And if you have a million machines infected in China, odds are you're going to have machines with U.S. or European addresses on them, and it will get here. We don't have hard evidence but certainly, the conclusion is that it contributed to the spread of something like Sobig.''
Belthoff also adds that China is being hit so hard because users there are still fairly new to the Internet and haven't been as educated about the hazards of viruses, worms, trojans and hoaxes.
''You think our problems are bad in this country and Europe, but viruses in China are rampant,'' he notes. ''The Chinese are just coming up to speed with the downside of the Internet. They have a high-tech corridor that makes Silicon Valley pale in comparison, but their growth rate for Internet access has just been exploding. The bulk of the people getting on aren't Internet savvy yet.''
According to figures from the Chinese government, there are more than 68 million Web surfers there.