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A Worst-Case Worm

Nicholas Weaver, Vern Paxson
June 2004

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Worms represent a substantial economic threat to the U.S. computing infrastructure. An important question is how much damage might be caused, as this figure can serve as a guide to evaluating how much to spend on defenses. We construct a parameterized worst-case analysis based on a simple damage model, combined with our understanding of what an attack could accomplish. Although our estimates are at best approximations, we speculate that a plausible worst-case worm could cause $50 billion or more in direct economic damage by attacking widely-used services in Microsoft Windows and carrying a highly destructive payload.

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