HOME     Making Pictures   Charts   Stationery   Family   Garden   Stories   Computer   Games   All

Mass-mailing Viruses

You received a virus-laden email?

The "sender" did NOT send it.

I'm glad that I wrote this article, because today (10/5/05) I saw, in my Mailwasher box, a virus-laden email with my own address as "sender". If my name is in your address book, PLEASE make sure that your anti-virus software is up-to-date!

How I Lost Control of My Own Email Address

If you don't have any anti-virus software, go to This extremely helpful page , choose from the recommendations and get yourself some protection straight away. While you're there, look at the other security programs suggested, or read the whole associated Basic Safe Surfing page.

Now read how these wretched things operate.

Imagine mass-mailing viruses in human terms.

An unpleasant person has some piece of propaganda or scandal they want to be read by as many people as possible. They type their message on a single sheet of paper, then make 499 photocopies.

They fold each copy and put it into an envelope.

Then they go in search of an address book. They might break into a private house, or they might grab one from a doctor's office when the receptionist isn't looking. By whatever method, they steal someone else's list of names and addresses.

Now they make a set of labels saying "from" and giving the name and address of the first person listed in that address book. They attach one of these labels to each of the envelopes.

They sit down with the address book open and address one envelope to each person in the address book.

They then stamp all the envelopes and drop them into a post box.

Each recipient will naturally assume that the letter is from the person whose name and address are on the "from" label. If they don't recognise the name, they may put it back into the post endorsed with "Return to Sender", or they may throw it away. Some will open it, glance through it, decide that it's rubbish and then throw it away. A few will contact the "sender", who'll deny having sent such a letter.

That's probably as far as things will go, in human terms. The perpetrator can, of course, repeat the performance, using the second address on the "from" labels, but there are obvious limitations. Paper, ink and envelopes all cost money, and it takes time to do all of that writing.   top

For the mass-mailing worm these limitations just don't exist.

Instead of one address book, the mass-mailing worm helps itself to hundreds of address books. Every time it is released into an unprotected computer, it searches for and finds names and addresses. It chooses one email address and sends a great stack of virus-laden emails "from" it. Then another and another and another.

Because of the numbers involved, people don't very often recognise the name of the "sender", but when the evil email appears to be from someone that they do know, the usual and natural reaction is to say to that person, "You have a virus. You sent me an infected email".

They didn't. Someone who has your address and the address of the supposed sender has been infected, and the email came from their computer, not from the "sender", so don't blame that person—and remember, since your email address is also in the infected computer, someone is possibly receiving an infected email with your name as the sender.   top

How I Lost Control of My Own Email Address

Here are some emails I saw in Mailwasher a few years ago.

Subjects included variations on "Undeliverable Mail", "Returned Mail", or "Request for Protected Mail". Some have been "Your Document" or "Is This about You?"

"Senders" have included "Mail Delivery System", the name of a very reliable anti-virus company and a lecturer at an educational institution I attended.

The educational institution was my downfall. We were asked to include an email address on our enrollment forms. Like a dummy, I filled in my primary email address. What a mistake!

Lecturers proceeded to send announcements to dozens of students, always putting them into the C.C. line of each email, so that every student had every other student's email address. Just one student had to innocently hit Reply to All to put all the addresses into their own address book, and then, when they went to a site that offered somewhat illegal downloads of music or movies............broom!

It took about a week for the spam to start. A lot of it was just advertising—only a nuisance—but there were still enough virus-laden emails to make my hair stand on end. MailWasher showed me the beginning of each email, and here are some of the messages inside. "You've been infected with a virus. Please run the attached file to clean", "Here's the document", "Please read the attached instructions", "Guaranteed virus free".

My primary email address was now useless. My ISP deal didn't allow me to abandon it and substitute a different address. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life deleting spam. The only solution I could think of was to actually change to a different provider, and never, ever, to give the new primary address to anyone.

Every ISP offers additional mailboxes, which can be deleted at any time. As well, there's Gmail and Yahoo! mail, both free and you can have more than one account in either. A Gmail address can be used in your local email client: Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Thunderbird or whatever. Yahoo! is generally used only on the web—you use your browser to read and send emails.

Just be very sure that your primary email address is known to just you and your ISP. Have one discardable address for friends, and another for filling in forms or giving in situations where you don't feel confident. Works like a charm!   top

If You're Suspicious

1. A very simple procedure is to go to Google and type the words of the subject—within quotes—followed by the word virus and the word Symantec. Symantec has a long list of subject lines and messages. Almost every one I checked was on it.

2. You can read Symantec's page about Netsky

3. If you feel uncomfortable about a particular email anyway, don't download it (or at least, if you don't use MailWasher or another filtering system, don't open it.) If you feel that it really may be from the person whose name is on it, email them and ask them if they really sent it. It's easy to ask someone to send again.

And please remember to keep your anti-virus program up-to-date. Don't be the person whose address book is used.   top

The Other Sort of Virus

Of course there are still the standard, almost old-fashioned viruses about: the kind that come hidden in a supposed screensaver, a document or a piece of music. Generally they're designed to do something bad to your own computer, but for propogation they depend on your actually sending them—or some other file that's caught the infection. Those come with genuine emails.

If, when you virus check an attachment you've just received, you find that it's infected, you should notify the sender. You should also remind them to virus check each and every item they download or receive through email. Whether an attachment comes from your most computer-literate friend or from your sweet old aunt, you always check it. Always. Every time. Never miss—because maybe, just this time, they forgot.

You may like to read the general discussion on computer viruses and how to avoid them.



Questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you. My email address is here.

Return to top