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    More dispatches from the war-on-Windows front

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver February 22-28, 2005 High Tech Office column

    The virtual war against Internet users continues. Here’s a week’s worth of dispatches from the frontlines.

    •    Many ISPs and business networks routinely filter email attachments, checking for file-types that may be viruses, in particular Windows .exe and .scr files and compressed .zip files. Now, many are reported finding virus-laden attachments hiding in a different compressed format: .rar files, many coming with messages promising pornographic content, others claiming to be a patch from Microsoft. (Note that Microsoft never sends out patches via email). Anti-virus vendors are scrambling to update their filters.

    •    Virus and worm-bearing messages don’t just target porn-viewers or pretend to come from Microsoft. A new worm, dubbed Wumark-F may come to your inbox along with a photo of an old man making faces, while another worm that appeared in early-February sang “You are an idiot” as it infected its victims. Yet another infection-bearing email promised viewers photos of Saddam Hussein killed while trying to escape from custody.

    •    Infections aren’t only spread by email these days. Users of the popular MSN Messenger instant messaging software may find themselves receiving a pair of infections along with a picture of a roast chicken with tan-lines. The Bropia.F and Agabot.agc worms try to spread to all online ‘buddies’ of an infected user. While this isn’t the first infection spread by instant messaging software, this is the first to spread so rapidly or to pack such a punch. Since they are sent out automatically, instant messaging users should check with the purported sender before agreeing to receive any files.

    •    Spam email senders are increasingly getting around antispam filters that rely on blacklists of known spammers by using hordes of worm-infected PCs as ‘zombie’ spam servers. Antispam company Postini reported that in January, 88% of all email traffic is spam, an amount that threatens to overload servers. Steve Linford, of spam blacklister SpamHaus, told ZDNet UK, "The e-mail infrastructure is beginning to fail. You'll see huge delays in e-mail and servers collapsing. It's the beginning of the e-mail meltdown."

    •    Microsoft has been releasing patches for Windows and Internet Explorer vulnerabilities on the second Tuesday of every month. The February 8th release included fixes for 13 different problems. These include ‘critical updates’ for Windows, MSN Messenger, Windows Media Player, and Office. 

    •    In January, Microsoft also released a public beta of Microsoft AntiSpyware. Windows 2000 and XP users may want to check this out; it does a good job of scanning for many spyware infections, and automatically downloads updates on a regular basis. The beta, which runs until July is free; Microsoft hasn’t announced whether the official release will also be free. The busy company also released its first ‘Malware Remover’ (aka ‘Malicious Software Removal Tool’), which checks Windows 2000 and XP systems for a short list of specific worms and viruses (including Blaster, Sasser, and MyDoom), removing the infection if found. ( I wouldn’t suggest relying on this in place of up-to-date antivirus software, but it’s another tool that can be used in a pinch.

    •    The webpage for Microsoft’s AntiSpyware tool checks whether your copy of Windows is legitimate; at this time, the check is optional, but it’s raising suspicions that Microsoft may, in the future, limit updates to customers with verifiably purchased copies of their products. If this leaves users of pirated Windows copies vulnerable to attack, this could make the Internet a more dangerous place even for Microsoft’s paid-in-full customers.

    •    In a mid-January survey conducted by Osterman Research 44% of US consumers reported that spam, spyware, and related problems had reduced their use of email or the Internet. If your company’s strategy relies on continued growth of online use, this should be worrying.

    Everything in this column is Windows-related. Even spam email, which will come your way no matter what computer software you’re running is now increasingly being distributed by infected computer zombies running Windows. There are ways to get out of the front-lines of this virtual war. More in the next few weeks.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan