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Bogus Microsoft e-mail spreads worm

A bogus e-mail message masquerading as Microsoft security software is spreading the Swen worm, the latest self-replicating electronic sabotage aimed at fouling up computer networks.

The new twist to this new sabotaging spoof, which surfaced last week, is the deceptively official looking e-mail message it’s hiding inside.

The message pretends to be from “Microsoft Network Security Department” and sports a Microsoft logo. It contains several clickable links to the Bellevue, Wash., computer company’s own technical support pages, making it seem even more legitimate.

The only real clue to the e-mail’s true nature — and it’s not much of one — is the text of the letter. It’s written in an awkward style, promising that a file attached to the message is “the latest version of security update, the ‘September 2003, Cumulative Patch’ update which fixes all known security vulnerabilities” for several Microsoft products.

The attached file is named “installation914.exe”. If the recipient opens the file, the worm — a techie term for code that can reproduce itself in machines and across networks without detection — is released and begins e-mailing itself to other users and spreading over networks.

Besides slowing down the machines and networks it infects, Swen will shut down some computer security operations. Some time after it infects a computer, it triggers a phony error message that asks the user for confidential information, such as an e-mail password, which can further allow the system to be compromised.

A report last week on TechNewsWorld.com said the Swen worm had affected 1.5 million computers in its first week.

Microsoft spokesman Brian Peterson confirmed the message is a fake. He said computer users should have firewall software protecting their PCs and networks from the Internet, and should update operating systems and anti-virus software regularly.

Hackers increasingly use unsuspecting people’s computers to launch attacks or hide their own identity, said Brian King, an Internet security analyst at the CERT Coordination Center in Oakland.

The center, at the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, monitors computer attacks and security breaches and provides information for avoiding or fixing them.

Such attacks are growing exponentially. The center recorded nearly 22,000 computer security incidents in 2000, and tallied more than 76,000 such incidents in the first half of 2003.

King said unlike the Sobig and Blaster worms that struck in the summer, the Swen worm hasn’t yet prompted enough complaints for his center to begin keeping individual statistics on it. The number of inquiries about Swen already are significantly lower than last week, King said.

“Like a lot of things, it’ll pop up and it’ll spread for a couple days, people will be interested in it, and then it slowly goes away over the next couple days until it disappears,” he said.

Additional Information:

Help available

An online pamphlet by Carnegie Mellon’s CERT Coordination Center offers a thorough, understandable guide to home computer security on the Web site .


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