Virus writers have taken advantage of the onset of a U.S. war on Iraq to release an e-mail supposedly offering a variety of war-themed attachments, ranging from secret U.S. spy pictures to screensavers mocking President Bush.
However, the e-mails actually contain a new worm called Ganda.
The worm, which is thought to originate in Sweden, travels in an e-mail with a variety of subject lines and body text--all intended to trick recipients into running the virus-ridden attachment.
"We're keen to stress that we still have this virus as a low risk at the moment," said Jack Clark, a manager for McAfee anti-virus products. "But it does show how far some virus writers are prepared to go to get attention."
This latest virus scare reveals the continuing trend of picking a particularly topical event, subject or figure and using it as a hook to tempt computer users into launching a virus.
The most common ploy involves popular celebrities, such as tennis star Anna Kournikova or teen singer Avril Lavigne. But in wartime, such a practice can become more sinister.
"Virus writes will use any occasion that they think will work on computer users, no matter how sick--be it the attack on the World Trade Center or the war with Iraq," Clark said. "They are just looking for attention and will use anything that will guarantee them media attention."
Clark said he believes there will be a lot more viruses launched in e-mails related to the war in Iraq.
"This isn't going to be the last," he said. "Virus writers will play upon people's curiosity for information about the war. Virus writers aren't particularly clever. Once they are presented with a successful method of getting people to launch viruses they will adopt it for themselves."
Once activated, Ganda behaves much like any other self-propagating worm. It will e-mail itself to names in the infected machine's Microsoft Outlook e-mail address book. It also scans the machine looking for security applications--such as McAfee, Norton or Sophos anti-virus products--and will then shut them down.
Clark advises people to treat e-mails purporting to be about the war in Iraq with suspicion.
"The good thing is that this virus hasn't had much of an impact," Clark said, "but it has alerted people to the potential dangers of war-related emails."
Silicon.com's Will Sturgeon reported from London.