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Epidemiology and computer viruses

Alan Solomon
S & S International

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It has been suggested in the press that computer viruses spread at an exponential rate; figures suggesting a doubling every two or three months have been suggested. These figures tend to be arrived at by fitting such a simple curve to two points, one of which is a rather arbitrary point a few years ago, when it is supposed that only one copy of one virus existed, and the other datum is an estimate of the current position.

Statisticians are well aware of the danger of curve-fitting and extrapolation from two (rather shaky) numbers; furthermore the experience for biological viruses does not suggest a simple exponential curve. There is a well-researched model for epidemiological studies, and it has a strong justification.

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