- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

It started, for me anyway, a few days ago when I returned from a trip and booted my computer, immediately downloaded new virus definitions from Norton Antivirus, and tried to get some work done.
Norton went crazy. Bugbear virus. Bugbear virus. Over and over and over. I had never heard of the Bugbear virus, (technically a worm), but I got 50 or 60 copies in one day. Usually I like to see the alerts just out of curiosity, but it got to be a nuisance so I told Norton to delete infected attachments automatically.
Viruses are getting more sophisticated and more harmful. Every time a new one breaks out, figures are published saying that so many millions or billions of dollars of damage has been done. Many people seem to view them as being like natural catastrophes things you can't prevent. Generally, this isn't true. The problem is that people refuse to be careful.
What is Bugbear? What does it do? And what can you do about it?
Like most viruses, it comes as an e-mail attachment. Being a very slick virus, it can have any of a long list of subject lines (e.g., "25 merchants and rising," "My eBay ads," "empty account," "Market Update Report," etc.) In other words, it isn't easily recognizable.
Worse, it can come from anybody. Your sister, your boss, your Aunt Sally in Oregon. What happens is this: Aunt Sally opens an infected e-mail without knowing it. The virus looks in her inbox, finds your address, and sends you an e-mail appearing to come from her, or from someone else in her inbox. The subject line may be "Really Funny!" You open it. Bingo. You're toast. Aunt Sally remains blissfully unaware that she has become a digital Typhoid Mary.
Once it gets into your computer, it tries to disable any antivirus software you may have (and you certainly should have it). It is not amateurish code.
Further, says Norton, it looks on your computer for "login details, passwords, credit-card numbers, and so on." This begins to be dangerous, especially since you have no idea that it is happening.
For a long time there have existed what are called "Trojans," from Trojan horses. These are viruses that install themselves on your computer without your knowledge. They let the hacker control your computer from afar. In particular, he can browse your files. Also well known are "keystroke loggers," which do just that. These are useful for stealing passwords and credit-card numbers. Bugbear has both.
In short, Bugbear is versatile, tricky, dangerous and, at least if your computer is not on a network, not a problem. Unless you are utterly lacking in judgment.
For years I have operated a political Web site that gets a lot of e-mail, some of it from people who inexplicably don't like me. Hundreds of viruses arrive every month. Yet I have never been hit by one. Why?
I don't open attachments. Any attachments. Ever.
I don't open, "See my sexy Japanese girlfriend." Or, "About your overdraft."
I don't open attachments from my best friends. If people want to send me things, I tell them to paste them into the body of the e-mail.
Some people have to open attachments. Fine. Tell your correspondents to put the day's date plus two slashes in the body of the e-mail, or some such. If it isn't there, it isn't from who it seems to be from.
Other security measures are equally simple. Use a good antivirus program. The standards are McAfee (www.mcafee.com) and Norton (www.symantec.com). They work at least if you keep your virus definitions up to date.
Finally, use a good personal fire wall, such as the free version of Zone Alarm (www.zonelabs.com). These have a variety of features that help keep viruses from spreading to others.
Just be careful. Usually that's enough.


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