Skip to comments.Latest e-mail worm spreading fast
Posted on 01/27/2004 7:25:31 AM PST by Clive
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- A malicious program attached to seemingly innocuous e-mails is spreading quickly over the Internet, clogging network traffic and potentially leaving hackers an open door to infected personal computers.
The worm, called "Mydoom" or "Novarg" by antivirus companies, usually appears to be an e-mail error message. A small file is attached that, when launched on computers running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating systems, can send out 100 infected e-mail messages in 30 seconds to e-mail addresses stored in the computer's address book and other documents.
The attack was first noticed Monday afternoon. Within hours, thousands of e-mails were clogging networks, said Vincent Gullotto, vice president of Network Associates' antivirus emergency response team.
Besides sending out e-mail, the program appears to open up a backdoor so that hackers can take over the computer later.
"As far as I can tell right now, it's pretty much everywhere on the planet," Gullotto said.
Security software experts were scrambling to decrypt the details of the malicious program and were arriving at different conclusions.
Symantec, an antivirus company, said the worm appeared to contain a program that logs keystrokes on infected machines. It could collect username and passwords of unsuspecting users and distribute them to strangers.
Network Associates did not find the keylogging program.
The worm also appears to deposit its payload into folders open to users of the Kazaa file-sharing network. Remote users who download those files and run them could be infected.
Symantec also found code that would flood The SCO Group Inc.'s Web site with requests in an attempt to crash its server, starting Feb. 1. SCO's site has been targeted in other recent attacks because of its threats to sue users of the Linux operating system in an intellectual property dispute. An SCO spokesman did not return a telephone call for comment Monday.
Overall, the computer security firm Central Command confirmed 3,800 infections within 45 minutes of initial discovery.
"This has all the characteristics of being the next big one," said Steven Sundermeier, Central Command's vice president of products and services.
It appeared to first target large companies in the United States -- and their large address books -- but quickly spread internationally, said David Perry, global director of education at the antivirus software firm Trend Micro.
Unlike other mass-mailing worms, Mydoom does not attempt to trick victims by promising nude pictures of celebrities or mimicking personal notes. Instead, one of its messages reads: "The message contains Unicode characters and has been sent as a binary attachment."
"Because that sounds like a technical thing, people may be more apt to think it's legitimate and click on it," said Steve Trilling, Symantec's senior director of research.
Subject lines also vary. The attachments have ".exe," ".scr," ".cmd" or ".pif" extensions, and may be compressed as a Zip file.
Microsoft offers a patch of its Outlook e-mail software to warn users before they open such attachments or prevent them from opening them altogether. Antivirus software also stops infection.
Christopher Budd, a security program manager with Microsoft, said the worm does not appear to take advantage of any Microsoft product vulnerability.
"This is entirely a case of what we would call social engineering -- enticing users to take actions that are not in their best interest," he said.
He said the software giant was working with other companies to learn more about the worm, but that, as of yet, the information about the worm was still "very spotty." The Redmond, Wash.-based company was encouraging users to take precautions such as using an Internet firewall and using up-to-date antivirus software.
Mydoom isn't the first mass-mailing virus of the year. Earlier this month, a worm called "Bagle" infected computers but seemed to die out quickly. So far, it's too early to say whether Mydoom will continue to be a problem or peter out, experts said.
"Over the next 24 to 48 hours, we'll have a much better sense," Trilling said. "Right now, the trend is only up."
Well it did log your keystrokes...
I got 2 this morning, they simply said "Hello" in the title but had the same message as the article said with a file attached.
Thanks to good advice (gleaned while lurking) , I've installed several free goodies to combat spam and bugs, and they seem to be working great.
'Adaware' for the bugs, 'AVG' for viruses, and 'Mailwasher' for the spam. I've gone overboard with the spam-scrubber, but it's been satisfying!
Between Zonealarm and my slow dialup, I've never felt too exposed.
However, the first time I ran Adaware, it found seven 'objects'!
Yeah, we were at 9,000 plus in the first 12 hours. I've stopped counting at this point.
But, who, these days ever opens an attachment from an unknown sender??
Well, many viruses do come from known senders, since, when a virus infects a machine, it may look on that machine for e-mail addresses to send to. So when you get it in turn, it may come from somebody who has corresponded with you before.
This virus apparently takes a trickier approach though. It looks like a bounced e-mail of yours, but you have to click on the attachment to see what the e-mail was. Apparently that was enough to get a lot of people to let their guard down for just a moment and click.
Overall, the biggest effect is probably the overloading of mail servers. This has slowed both incoming and outgoing mail on some servers considerably.
Most spam and some viruses use false "From" headers (there's no authentication on that). Sometimes you can tell where a message really came from by looking at the IP addresses in the headers.
When one of these messages bounces, it bounces back to the person whose address was forged in the original header. (It's like a postal letter with a false return address written on the envelope.)
I only open an attachment if it is from someone I know and they have explained to me carefully what the attachment is.
I agree, that's essential.
In fact I normally delete immediately without opening any e-mail from an address that does not look familiar.
I don't think this last part is practical for many people, especially in business, who have to answer email from customers or from the public. Even a teacher is unlikely to be able to recognize the e-mail address of every student or past student who they might want to hear from.
Are there people who don't do this??!!
There are many people who click on attachments, or we wouldn't be getting these massive onslaughts. Some of these people are foolish or gullible, but many probably just had a momentary lapse, and clicked quickly on something without thinking about it. That's all it takes.
The situation is exacerbated by all the people in business and academia who send virtually everything as an attachment (a Microsoft Word document, or an Excel spreadsheet, or the like). This places people in the position where they have to open attachments regularly as part of their job, and they become accustomed to it and end up thinking of it as good computing practice. In fact, most of the time, there's no reason to send, for instance, a Word document rather than plain text. Not only does it expose you to viruses, but it's more awkward to read, it prevents easy searching through your past e-mails for some text you remember, it requires you either to have an up-to-date version of some proprietary software or to find a substitute, etc.
In any case, I wouldn't use an e-mail client that will run an executable sent to me in the mail with just a click. And I would avoid running operating systems that have a flawed approach to security.
I have a special account for students only
and I tell them that I will not read any student e-mail
sent to any other account.
Furthermore, all students must provide their name in the subject line.
In general, if an e-mail is from an unknown address
and the subject line does not provide concrete evidence
that the person knows me
then I delete it immediately.
It is possible that I delete some genuine messages intended for me
but I suspect that happens very rarely.
I'm sure you're right. I've occasionally enjoyed hearing from people who knew me many years ago; I'm not sure whether the subject line in those cases would have tipped me off, but it does happen rarely.
On the other hand, people in business will have to answer e-mail from many individuals who are either wholly unknown to them or who are very casual, barely-known business acquaintances. Even in academia, this would apply, for instance, to someone holding a department chair position.
But this is probably moot. One of the tricky aspects of these viruses is that they frequently do seem to be coming from somebody you know. (That's due to the fact that when they propagate themselves, they often harvest e-mail addresses from files on the machine they're on, and then mail themselves to those addresses.)
The success of the latest worm appears to be due in good part to its social engineering: the text in the body was believable for long enough to get some people to click without getting suspicious first.