November 27, 2006 4:42 PM PST

Security from A to Z: Virus variants

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As well as being virulent, viruses can spawn a sequence of variants.

These are tweaks on the same malicious software theme that aim to outfox security measures and spread yet more infection.

When a virus first appears, security companies mark its name with the suffix ".A" to denote it is the first such strain of that particular virus. Each subsequent variant is then appended with an alphabetically ascending designator, so the next iteration of "Leap.A" would be "Leap.B," and so on.

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The A to Z of security
Read the first part in our rundown of hot security topics, from antivirus to zero-day threats.

Depending on their signature files, different security companies can know the same virus by different names.

A virus can be named after a string found in its code, the payload it delivers or the effect it has. It can also be popularly known by one or several names, while having a more technical moniker, too. The virus VBS/VBSWG.J, for instance, is also known as the "Kournikova" virus, so named because of the promise of a naked picture of tennis star Anna Kournikova was used to induce its victims to click.

Natasha Lomas reported for Silicon.com in London.

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