Billion dollar ‘love bug’ hurts computers

Anyone who got the latest computer virus via e-mail knows what damage it can cause, even if they managed to eradicate it before it did any permanent damage.

The Love Bug is the latest in a series of particularly nasty viruses that take advantage of a weakness in Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail program. Like last year’s ‘Melissa’ virus, the Love Bug comes as an e-mail (often from someone you know or who has you in his or her e-mail address book) with a ‘worm’ attachment file that wreaks havoc on your system if you open it.

These viruses are aimed at users of the Outlook and Outlook Express mail programs. As Microsoft programs, they are far and away the world’s most popular. The ‘worms’ are small program that work by tricking your Outlook
program to send the very same e-mail (with virus) to everyone in your e-mail address book. If the attachment is opened, the virus scours your hard drive for graphics and sound files and replaces them with useless ‘.vbs’ files.

This latest virus was doubly effective, because so many people were tricked into opening an ‘I Love You’ message from someone they know. In this case, the hacker was not only technically sophisticat, but also skilled in
pinpointing human weaknesses.

How can you protect yourself? If you don’t already have a late model virus checker on your computer, get one fast. Once you’ve installed it, visit the manufacturer’s website on a regular basis and download any new virus protection files. These are developed on an as-needed basis. And if you’re ever unsure about an email with an attachment, don’t open it!

Telephone the person who ‘sent’ you the e-mail, and ensure that they have indeed sent it. While you’re waiting for your answer, log off from the Internet just to be sure that you yourself aren’t sending out the same virus to the people on your list.

An additional mode of protection is to switch to one of the less popular e-mail programs like Netscape Messenger or Eudora, which are less popular and therefore not attacked as frequently. 

Most experts agree that, like mosquitoes and black flies, computer viruses are bugs that will be with us for a long time. The same approach applies: take as many precautions as you can, and learn to live with the critters.