New computer virus on the prowl

By Hasan Suroor, The Hindu, Wednesday 25 July 2001

LONDON, JULY 24. There is a new computer virus on the prowl and it has been playing hell with people's privacy across Europe. Like the dreaded Love Bug, which caused such havoc with computer systems around the world, this also comes with an e-mail attachment and once the genie is out of the bottle there is no protection against it.

Sircam does two things when it lets itself into the system: first it forwards itself to every name on the user's address book and, more embarrassingly, attacks the computer's My Documents folder. It picks up a file at random and sends it hurtling through the worldwide web along with the infected mail. People have been shocked and embarrassed to see their most private communications exposed to the world.

Confidential commercial files such as client lists or new product information could be sent around the world in seconds as could more revealing personal documents such as job applications or private letters, The Guardian reported today describing it as a nasty strain. It said the virus originated in Latin America.

As many as 4,000 cases had been reported in the past 24 hours prompting experts to warn users of its security implications. The virus could pick any file that is in there, and if it picks something questionable the user could be seriously embarrassed, one expert told a newspaper. He said his scanning service had intercepted several thousand infected mails over the past week. Sircam is said to be more sophisticated than previous viruses and therefore more difficult to combat. The Guardian said it had been able to thrive because of its unique design and behaviour. does not always put the same message in the e- mail subject line. Instead it puts the name of whichever file it has raided from the My Documents folder. The message, however, always starts and ends with identical lines, either in English or Spanish. It starts with Hi, how are you? and ends with See you later, thanks.

Users have been warned that the virus also invades the web cache which stores the websites they have visited and forwards itself to the addresses on that site. A number of sports and news sites are reported to have been flooded with unwanted mails set off by Sircam. Mobile phone addicts, meanwhile, are having to put up with another sort of nuisance. The Times reported people getting an anonymous textmessage telling them to call urgently at a number which is constantly engaged. The recipient of the message is often in panic as he or she ponders over the dreadful possibilities: has there been an accident involving family member? has someone fallen sick?

The mystery behind the emergency message, however, is a con trick. It's a moneymaking scam by an unscrupulous outfit who, armed with a premium rate number and a list of mobile phone numbers, have been making up to £ 1.50 a minute from the calls.

The scheme works because the call is put through to a recording of an engaged tone rather than the real thing meaning that the victim pays each time the number is dialled, the newspaper said. The body which regulates premium rate calls (users pay higher rates for certain privileges) has launched an investigation.