Beware of Vicious Valentine Viruses

Virus-writers love to target the holidays, so here's what to watch for in electronic greetings.

Last Valentine's Day some people received an unwanted gift in their e-mail in-box: The VBS.Valentine.A worm. And while there's no indication of a Valentine's Day virus lurking for delivery this year, antivirus experts urge caution.

History shows that love has acted as a front for deception--consider Samson and Delilah, or any of Mata Hari's lovers. On Valentine's Day you run a higher risk of getting hit by a virus or a worm. It's not because more viruses are triggered on February 14, but because you and your friends are more likely to open an attachment or click on a link that enables a virus to act, say antivirus company representatives.

Last year's harmful heartthrob, also known as VBS/Valentin@MM, would replace the contents of files in your C: drive with a text message on four specified days of any month.

"Any holiday is an especially vulnerable time [for viruses]," says April Goostree, virus research manager at antivirus vendor McAfee. People are looking for e-mail with attachments from friends and family, so they open more of them during holiday seasons. Many of the current generation of viruses propagate by using your address book, so a friend could get an infected e-mail from you, open the attachment, and get infected.

Unpleasant Greetings

Luckily, few viruses specifically target Valentine's Day, says Carey Nachenberg, chief researcher of Symantec's Antivirus Response Center. None of those that do aim for February 14 has done any widespread damage. However, the very damaging LoveLetter virus spread widely in May 2000 using a love theme to get people to open the e-mail and infect their systems. The LoveLetter was keyed around Mother's Day.

But another threat is more prevalent around the holidays: the virus hoax. Valentine's Day is the theme of several of the e-mail messages that tell you wrongly that you have received a virus, according to Steve Demogines, director of technical support for Panda Software, another antivirus vendor. These include the Be My Valentine hoax, which warns of a virus that will wipe out your hard drive, but in fact has no effect.

Hoaxes aren't dangerous, but they are annoying and can waste a lot of your time, Nachenberg says. Before you delete any files or get too worried, check out >Symantec's Hoax Site to see if it's a joke.

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