Computer Viruses & How They Affect Our Economy

By Eleanor McKenzie

IT security improved as a result of increased virus attacks.
i Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

Viruses and malware cost industries around the world billions on an annual basis. Cyber attacks, such as the mass attacks by WikiLeaks supporters in 2011, highlighted the financial impact of malicious activity on both businesses and, ultimately, the consumer. The effect on the economy includes the costs that companies have when they must repair virus damage and suffer from lost revenue.

Economic Data

At the time of publication in 2011, the number of malware attacks numbered more than 200 million. A 2010 report by McAfee, a security software company, revealed that the cost to corporations of work time lost due to virus attacks was $6.3 million per day, and a Fox News report in 2009 estimated that $86 billion is lost worldwide annually. Earlier reports, such as the 2007 Malware Report by Computer Economics on the annual worldwide economic damage caused by malicious code attacks on organizations showed that the costs were $13.3 billion. An "Information Week" report from 2000 indicated that the global cost was as high as $1.6 trillion.

Direct Costs

It appears the cost to businesses is falling, but this is because these statistics are based only on direct costs. The direct costs of a virus attack are based on labor costs that are associated with analyzing, repairing and cleaning an infected system. It also includes loss of productivity, and consequently revenue, due to employees being unable to use the system, plus potential loss of company data from the system. This does not include costs of anti-virus systems, the insurance costs, loss of brand reputation or market value.

Decline in Direct Costs

The decline in the annual costs of attacks is due to the fact that attackers adopted a new strategy, and computer anti-virus protection improved. Anti-virus subscription plans keep computers protected against new viruses as soon as they appear, and awareness of virus problems has pushed security up on the agenda for many businesses. Also, malware authors developed a new goal -- financial gain. Early virus attacks were intended to cause chaos that damaged companies and the economy, but attackers saw they could gain financially by obtaining information from infected computers. The new malware codes enter computers and steal credit card numbers, passwords and provide backdoor entrances to an organization network.

Secondary Attacks

It is more difficult to quantify the cost of this type of attack. It is easy to calculate the cost of removing spyware from a network, but if the spyware has managed to capture some passwords, or even just part of a password, the spyware author can infiltrate a company's network and cause incalculable damage. Many companies consider spyware the most serious threat. The McAfee report identifies the oil and gas industries as the being the most vulnerable for what it terms "stealth infiltration."