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[casi] OT! World's Worst Computer Virus Infects 1 in 17 E-Mails

World's worst computer virus infects 1 in 17 e-mails
By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor
22 August 2003

The worst e-mail virus ever hit computers around the world yesterday as American spammers succeeded 
at one stage in infecting one in every 17 messages on the internet.

The SoBig-F virus affects Windows PCs, making them covertly download a program that turns the 
machine into a "zombie", allowing spammers to take control of it.

Dozens of copies of the virus are then sent via e-mail to addresses culled from the infected PC's 
files. The number of e-mails generated suggests that millions of PCs have potentially been 
infected. Users are likely to face even more unsolicited spam in coming days.

Steve Linford, chief executive of the London-based anti-spam organisation Spamhaus, said: "It's the 
most destructive thing we've ever seen. It's causing havoc on the Net."

He said that the greatest threat from SoBig lies ahead, because the spammers who commissioned it 
use the "zombie" network created from infected machines to send out even more spam e-mails and even 
to attack organisations or networks.

"The problem is that the people who are being infected are home users or small offices with 
broadband connections, who are using Microsoft Windows, and because there's so many of them this 
[virus] has infected far more than any previous one."

He said that anyone taking control of the "zombie" network would be able to attack government or 
military computer networks, simply by telling them to try to connect to them.

"That would suck up all the bandwidth to them," he said. Mr Linford paid grudging respect to the 
author of the virus. "It's incredibly well-written," he said. "It's very very small but ... it can 
send dozens of messages. And it's going like wildfire."

Spamhaus believes that American spammers who want to send out more messages commissioned a 
programmer to write the virus, which has appeared in different variants since January 2003. The 
problem of the number of e-mails generated by SoBig-F was magnified by automated e-mail systems 
which sent out warnings every time they received a copy of the infected e-mail.

Because the virus fakes its source, each automated message was sent to an innocent user. "Those are 
really daft," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at the antivirus company Sophos. 
"They're sending it to the wrong person, which causes them to think they're infected, and it 
generates more e-mail."

But he noted that the volume of infected e-mails was causing problems even for companies with 
safeguards in place.

"Even if you are stopping those e-mails at the gate, if you're receiving 2,000 copies of SoBig and 
one useful e-mail your system has to crunch through the 2,000 rubbish ones to find the single good 
one." SoBig-F has spread much faster than any other e-mail virus, including the "Love Bug" released 
by a programmer in the Philippines in April 2000.

"The past week and a half has been a worm war during which we've not got much sleep. I think this 
latest one should be called SoHumungous - the amount of e-mail traffic it's generated has been 
huge," said Mr Cluley.

 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

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