A Cautionary Tale: Beware of Internet Viruses

This is a horror story about something that was preventable on my part. For years I’ve preached and practiced the gospel of not opening anything that looks suspicious, of not clicking on forwarded links that have little or no explanatory information or of not downloading unsolicited attached files from unknown sources.

We all receive offers that sound too good to be true. Sometimes they go directly to the Spam folder, but often they escape that filter. There are also legitimate messages that are shunted to the Spam folder that should not have been. So, I routinely check it for such mistakes.

A popular Spam format is a notice that our credit cards have expired or that personal information needs to be updated with an appeal to Click Here to do so. Often the sender and their graphics are well known and so skillfully done that they appear to be authentic. Always check the message for grammatical errors, typos and especially a link to click directly on an included link to take corrective action. The rule of thumb is “When in doubt, don’t open them.”  Many organizations want to know about these fraudulent misrepresentations and have special departments for forwarding such messages so they can pursue the source.

Recently I received a message from Delta Airlines that guided me to download and print an e-ticket for my upcoming trip. Since I had received the same type of message from them on my last trip a few months ago I assumed that there had been another change in my itinerary and this was an updated ticket.  When it would not print I became leery, so I checked the travel dates and destination. They were not the same! Then my computer shut down.  On reboot, a message stated that a severe problem had been encountered and that an attempt to repair it was in progress that might take several moments.  Then I called my computer repair service technician who recognized the symptoms and told me to shut it down immediately before further damage occurred and then bring the computer in for inspection.

The diagnosis was that it was a serious viral attack. Scan tests had revealed a proliferation of 441 alien files that the downloaded virus program had launched. I was told that similar occurrences had resulted in demands for payments to some off shore point in exchange for correcting the problem; i.e., a hostage situation.  Others had gleaned valuable personal information such as bank accounts, social security numbers  and passwords,  aka identity theft.

In addition, there was the question of how to recover and restore all my data files, including over 15,000 photographic images. I spent nearly a week anxiously hoping for the best, but fearing a worst case scenario. Finally, the call came that it had been fully restored. The repair cost wasn’t cheap, but it was certainly the least of my concerns and I was hugely relieved.

When I asked why the anti-virus program and firewall had not protected my system, I was assured that neither would have prevented the infection once I elected to download it without scanning first.

The moral of this article is to beware and be careful about downloading and opening files from the internet. Your computer can be a carrier that spreads a virus to others without your knowledge, so be judicious of what you send to others as attached files.  Just for the sheer convenience of my recipients I always embed photographic images into the text rather than attach them. That way they can view them by simply scrolling down the page, which saves them time and the file management task of placement, downloading and later deleting them.

Bob Coffey