SirCam, I love you -- but not as much as these Kournikova Pix

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

From Computoredge

SirCam, I love you -- but not as much as these Kournikova Pix

July 5, 2002

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It all started with an angry and confused message from a stranger. A woman was getting a virus from my e-mail account, and she wasn't happy about it. For a few hours, I was worried. Could there be a virus on my machine that I didn't know about? Was my computer e-mailing viruses all over the Internet without my knowledge? Might all my friends actually be getting virus attachments from me and just be too polite to say anything? (Okay, with my friends, that last one is unlikely.) But soon, I started receiving bounced messages from my server. Messages with attachments that I had "sent" were being returned to me.

What was going on? Well, the answer was simple. My address had been spoofed. Without my knowledge, it had been placed as the return address on a virus-ridden e-mail. Apparently, this is a whole new trend. Someone opens an attachment with a virus, which then sends itself out to every address it can find -- but with a twist. The virus grabs a random address from that person's inbox and makes that the reply-to address, so that it looks like a completely innocent person -- like, oh I don't know, me -- is the one who sent the virus. This is difficult enough to explain here. Try explaining it to an angry person who thinks you're the reason for her contaminated computer.

As someone with a mailing list, whose address is unfortunately in many inboxes, I'm particularly susceptible to this. Even without the spoofing, I certainly get my share of viruses, so many that I can't help but view them all with a critical eye.

Some are just random. For example, the SirCam virus simply grabs any file from a person's My Documents folder, attaches a virus to it, and sends it out. Not only does this wreck havoc on other machines, it is also a serious security risk. I know of some recipients who would carefully open the attachments with a text editor to view what was occasionally confidential information. I've thought about trying this myself, but all I seem to get are resumes. Apparently, a lot of people who open attachments from strangers are also looking for work.

Other viruses are more alluring. Over the last few years, countless people have caught a virus by opening an attachment pretending to be a picture of tennis star Anna Kournikova. I'm sure she must now be thrilled that the phrase "Anna Kournikova virus" has entered our lexicon. At any rate, if you're looking for pictures of her -- trust me -- there are plenty of places online to find them. You don't need to open this attachment.

Some viruses even grab my user name (which happens to be my first name) and include it in the subject. "Joe, check this out!" they will say. This all seems a little presumptuous to me. I would rather not be on a first name basis with a computer virus.

And then there are the dull messages that are not the least bit enticing. "A new web site for you" or "Internet tool for you," the subject will say. Wow, great, an Internet tool! That's just what I've been looking for.

As for the text of these messages, they would be a lot more compelling if someone who could actually write English was involved. For me, atrocious grammar plus an attachment equals the trash can. Perhaps the virus people should look into hiring freelance writers to write the text. God knows we could use the work.

My favorites are the viruses that don't even contain a virus. Technically, all the bogus virus warnings are not viruses, but they might as well be considering all the worry they cause. "No, Mom, you don't have a virus.... No, it's just a hoax.... No, it's okay. You can turn your computer back on."

Actually, I shouldn't make fun of my mother. I'm quite proud of her. She was recently sent a virus hoax and didn't fall for it. Last month, she received an e-mail from her nephew who thought he had a virus. He had gotten a message telling him to look for a jdbgmgr.exe file on his computer. It was a virus that would become active in fourteen days, the message said. If the file was there, he should eliminate it immediately and then forward the message to all his friends so that they too could be safe.

Well, of course, the file was there. This is a harmless file that is included in every copy of Windows. Luckily, deleting it doesn't cause much damage, but there's something almost admirable about a hoax like this. I was truly impressed. It's basically the equivalent of a do-it-yourself virus. Imagine if it had been an important file. Tell people to delete a file, and not only will they do it, but they will even send the alert out to all their friends.

Hey, who needs malicious code when people are quite willing to destroy their computers on their own?

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