Symantec granted patent for detection of mutating viruses

Security company Symantec says it has developed a new weapon in the battle against viruses, Trojans and worms. It has been granted a patent in the US for what it is terming ‘data detection of viruses’ in order to combat the increasing sophistication of modern malware.

Ever since the first viruses appeared, detection has always depended on ‘signatures’ – unique sections of code which antivirus scanners look for. However, over recent years, virus writers have become much more sophisticated and have begun to generate self mutating code which change the signature and keep them one step ahead of the virus hunters.

In a statement Symantec said that the patent covers the ability to ‘write simple detection scripts to allow for complex scanning and emulation of executable files, complex threats such as self-mutating viruses, worms, and spyware can be detected. Furthermore, researchers are able to aim an antivirus scanner at specific regions of each file for inspection, rather that having to scan larger regions of files and slowing down the operation of a computer.’

All well and dandy you might think. Anything which speeds up the detection of mutating viruses is a Good Thing. Except that the patent number 6,851,057 granted this week, was first applied for in 1999. Since then, a number of other companies have come up with similar scripting techniques to predict future mutations. In fact its hard to think of a way of building a modern virus detection application without them.

Michael Schallop, director of Intellectual Property for Symantec said, ‘This patent is part of a strategic portfolio that allows Symantec to continue to set the standard for innovation in the information security industry.’

To be sure, Symantec will want to be bolstering its defences this year. Microsoft has said it is entering the anti-virus detection market this year. Nearly half of Symantec’s $2.42 billion revenues comes from end user subscriptions to its anti virus products. If it can put some legal roadblocks in Redmond’s way over patent issues to delay its entry in the market so much the better. If it can prove it owns key patents for virus scanners which will halt Microsoft and its current competitors like McAfee completely, then Symantec will claim total victory.

However, to do that, the patent will inevitably end up being tested in court. Another long running high tech patent dispute? The lawyers will be rubbing their hands already.

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