Email Server Viruses

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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The worse possible scenario for a virus attack is infection of an email server. As the relay point for all incoming and outgoing traffic, servers are ideal targets. Think about the four phases of a computer virus that are in fact only three phases or possibly two. Hold that thought, because it's important to understanding both the threat of a virus and why mail servers are so critical.

Virus Lifespans

Beyond programming, which is presumed, the first phase in a virus life cycle is launch. Regardless of the number of other targets, a virus arrives at a destination point--in this case a mail server--and stays put. Second is activation. A virus is dormant until activated by a triggering event, which depends on the creativity of the hacker, but can range from booting to specific program activity to specified clock time.

Third is payload, that is, as it were, job assignment--the first cardinal rule of a virus. "Do damage to a computer system." There are two fundamental types of virus, boot sector and program or program file. Payload in the case of email servers might be to reformat the hard drive, to deny certain protocols, or to attach a virus executable to all outgoing messages. Any of these scenarios are of course grave risks. Payload, once delivered, rolls into the fourth phase, or back around, in fact, to propagation. Propagation is the second cardinal rule of existence for a virus. "Be fruitful and multiply."

Preventing viruses from infiltrating and infecting an email server, however, is a decided challenge. First on the list of strategic elements is an intensive and comprehensive firewall, the proverbial moat around the castle walls. Computer firewalls can be software driven or hardware based, or, ideally, a combination. This amounts, to continue the metaphor, of continual watch along the castle walls. Backing that up are multi-level anti-virus protection and continual updating of virus definitions, which are the soldiers in the castle, their ammunition, and their supplies.


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