- TENNIS - E-mail virus circulating rapidly

Monday, February 12
E-mail virus circulating rapidly

NEW YORK -- A computer virus circulated rapidly Monday in the guise of an electronic photo of tennis star Anna Kournikova, overwhelming e-mail servers throughout Europe and North America.

Anna Kournikova
The photogenic Anna Kournikova of Russia has yet to win a WTA tournament.
Within a few hours, the virus had managed to spread almost as rapidly as last May's "I Love You" virus, which caused tens of millions of dollars in damages worldwide. Anti-virus researchers expected more computer infections during Tuesday's business day in Asia.

The virus comes as an attachment named "AnnaKournikova.jpg.vbs" and carries the message "Hi: Check This!" At least three subject lines have been identified: "Here you have," "Here you go" and "Here you are" -- all followed by a smiley face.

"Everybody and their brother and sister in law (are) infected with this thing," said David Perry, director of public education at Trend Micro Inc. "Last year, everybody wanted to be loved. Apparently many people want to see a JPEG (picture) of Anna Kournikova."

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos Anti-Virus Inc., said the virus writer skillfully combined "the temptation of the teen-age tennis star with the average fantasy of the guy who sits in front of the computer terminal."

The virus is known as a worm because it can automatically send copies of itself to everyone on a recipient's address book. That could be thousands of copies per person for a larger corporation.

It only spreads through Microsoft Outlook e-mail software on Windows computers, although Macintosh users and those using other e-mail programs can still spread the virus manually.

Microsoft spokesman Adam Sohn said the company had released a security update last June, shortly after the "I Love You" virus spread using similar techniques. That update generates a warning anytime a computer program attempts to access Outlook's address book.

The virus appears to have originated in Europe.

Mikko Hypponen, manager of anti-virus research for F-Secure Corp., said the virus does not permanently damange computers, but if left alone will try to contact a Dutch Web site on Jan. 26, 2002.

Many anti-virus companies have developed software updates to filter the new virus, and many network administrators responded by configuring e-mail servers to automatically reject the message.

A warning to Michican State University users was typical: "If you receive such a message, please DO NOT OPEN the attachment. Discard the message immediately."

Vincent Weafer, director of the Symantec Anti-Virus Research Center, partly attributed the virus's spread to timing.

"Close to Valentine's Day, anything novel or different like this will get people's attention more than normal," he said. "They are expecting messages from friends, maybe pictures of each other or cards. People lower their guards."

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