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New e-mail worm spreads, disguised as virus warning

May 15, 2001 

Antivirus companies have long cautioned users against opening unexpected e-mail attachments or attachments sent by strangers, but thanks to a new e-mail worm spreading this week, antivirus companies can add themselves to the list of not-to-be-trusted e-mailers.

The worm, called VBS.Hard.A@mm, shows up in users' in-boxes disguised as a virus alert from Symantec Corp., the antivirus vendor said in a virus alert. With a subject line reading "FW: Symantec Anti-Virus Warning" and an attachment bearing the name "," the relatively innocuous worm, like many other recent worms, is written in Microsoft Corp.'s Visual Basic script (VBS) and propagates through Microsoft's Outlook Express e-mail client.

The e-mail carrying the worm is sent by "F. Jones," whom the e-mail identifies as a Symantec senior developer.

When a user double clicks on the attachment, thus launching the file, a number of things happen. First, the default Web page that the PC's Web browser is set to visit upon launch is changed to a fake Symantec virus information page. The worm then sends itself to everyone in the infected PC's Outlook Express address book. The worm also makes some changes to the computer's registry files. And it creates a dialog box that will appear on Nov. 24 that reads: "Don't look surprised! It is only a warning about your stupidity Take care!"

Though the worm is low-risk and doesn't cause serious damage, it's likely to spread quickly, said Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec.

To remove the worm, users should be sure to update their virus definitions, run up-to-date virus scans and delete any files reported as being related to the worm. Changing the default Web page in the browser must be done manually. Instructions on how to delete the changes made to the computer's registry are available on Symantec's Web site, on a page detailing the virus.

The VBS.Hard.A@mm worm is only the latest in a flurry of e-mail worms that have spread in the past few months. Thanks to alerts and the repeated chidings of antivirus companies, users have become more informed and skeptical, limiting the spread of viruses, according to virus researchers.

However, as users are becoming more informed, so too are virus and worm writers changing their tactics, according to virus experts.

VBS.Hard.A@mm and other recent worms employ a technique called social engineering to enable their spread. Social engineering is a technique in which, in this case, a virus or worm writer will attempt to trick a user into helping spread their work by disguising it as something fun or useful, like an antivirus alert message. The recent Anna Kournikova and Naked Wife viruses both used these techniques.

As always, users are cautioned to be sure they have the most up-to-date antivirus protection and not to open unexpected e-mail attachments.

Story copyright 2000 International Data Group

Copyright © 2001 Computerworld, Inc.

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