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Virus e-mailed to @Home subscribers

February 28, 2001 

Toronto — Someone posing as a technical support representative of the already troubled @Home high-speed Internet service — and possibly based in Ottawa — has been trying to infect subscribers' computers with a virus.

Officials at Rogers Cablesystems, which is controlled by Rogers Communications Inc. of Toronto and is California-based Excite@Home Corp.'s second-biggest Canadian affiliate, said the company became aware early last week of the potentially damaging e-mails that a "malicious individual" has been sending to its 315,000 high-speed subscribers and it began e-mailing a "Virus Alert" to them Monday.

The individual had "stolen" a numeric Internet address from a block assigned to Rogers@Home in Ottawa, company spokeswoman Tanta Gupta said Tuesday, adding that as far as she knows, this is the first time anyone purporting to be from @Home has launched such a virus attack.

However, the address is now inactive, and the "fraud" could have been "done from anywhere," she said. Ms. Gupta added that Rogers received only six e-mails from customers about the bogus message, leading it to believe that the development was not widespread.

She also said Rogers has not contacted the police about the matter because, with the address in question now inactive, "our tech guys tell us that ... there's really nothing more that can be done."

The Rogers alert warns customers not to open an attachment to an e-mail concerning a supposed "@Home Service Upgrade," which is signed by "Charlie H., @Home Support Co-ordinator, Electronic Support Group."

If opened, the alert says, the "Sub-seven Trojan Virus attachment ... can potentially open a port on your computer and allow others to gain access to your system."

However, Ms. Gupta said the company's engineers have determined that, in and of itself, the virus "doesn't do any damage to your files or hard drive."

The alert advises subscribers to delete the e-mail and attachment immediately. Chris Weisdorf, president of the independent Rogers@Home Users' Association, beat Rogers to the punch in warning subscribers about the virus. He posted a notice on the group's Web site on Feb. 20, and said the perpetrator's Internet address appeared to suggest he or she was located in Ottawa.

Rogers said in its alert that the bogus e-mail was also sent to subscribers of Excite@Home's two other big Canadian affiliates, Shaw Communications Inc. of Calgary and Cogeco Cable Inc. of Montreal.

A Cogeco spokeswoman said the company installed a "virus filter" when it became aware of the problem last week and that "everything is under control." Shaw officials could not be reached.

The virus attack is just the latest woe to have hit @Home subscribers in Canada, particularly those of Rogers, which is more dependent than either Shaw or Cogeco on Excite@Home's network and infrastructure. The system has been sporadically plagued with technical glitches that have sometimes left subscribers without access to e-mail for hours or even days at a time. This has strained relations between the Canadian cable companies and their U.S. supplier.

As a result of customer complaints and negative media coverage, Rogers caved in early this month and sent each of its 200,000 subscribers in Ontario $25 gift certificates for the Indigo bookstore chain. The $5-million cost of this largesse was borne by Excite@Home.

Meanwhile, Shaw has been transferring its customers' high-speed traffic to its own fibre-optic network operation.

JOHN PARTRIDGE From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

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