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Germany

Virus Alarm!

A new computer virus is wrecking havoc on thousands of Windows operated computer systems worldwide.

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The "goner" virus may appear on your screen soon

Going, going, gone. Suddenly you're faced with a blank screen. All your work, all your files, everything is gone. If that's the case, then you've just been hit by this season's latest file-deleting, network clogging computer viruse: the "goner".

And you're not alone. Thousands of Windows' operated computer systems around the world have been struck by the computer bug. Information specialists are calling it one of the most virulent viruses since last year's infamous "love letter" e-mail, which caused massive destruction on home and corporate personal computers.

By late Tuesday, software company Network Associates had reported several hundred thousand infections in the United States. On Wednesday the virus had spread to thousands more European computers.

"Goner" propagates itself though the Internet and other networks, latching on to Windows' e-mail programs like Outlook and Outlook Express as well as personal information organizers.

According to Internet Security Systems Inc, users of the latest version, Outlook 2002, were at less risk of infection. The program is designed to block potentially harmful attachments by default and warns users when a program tries to access e-mail addresses.

Spreads rapidly

"Goner" is a particularly fast virus. Mark Sunner, chief technology officer of UK-based Message Labs, said that it is one of the fastest moving and potentially dangerous e-mail viruses around. It spreads so quickly because it attaches itself to e-mails and feeds on address lists, automatically sending out mass mails to all the names in a user's address book.

According to Microsoft, "goner" arrives as an e-mail with an attachment disguised as a screen saver. The e-mail subject line says "Hi" and the text reads: "How are you? When I saw this screen saver, I immediately thought about you I am in a harry (sic), I promise you will love it!"

Once the user clicks on the attachment, the virus sneaks into the address book and sends an e-mail to everyone on the list. It then tries to close all running programs and delete system files, including security software such as virus scanners.

No defense

The "goner" hackers call themselves "Pentagone". At least that's what a flickering signature on the screen saver says. The name is most likely a play on the word Pentagon, the US Department of Defense, and the word "gone". Hence the virus's nickname "goner".

Computer experts say the software saboteurs are most likely working out of France, although nothing has been confirmed yet.

Christopher Fischer from the Virus Test Center in Karlsruhe, Germany, said that the market domination by one software provider, Microsoft, is largely to blame for the string of computer viruses and the havoc they wreck. "Because we have a mono-culture, it's very easy to ignite an extensive fire."

Fischer criticizes Microsoft for not offering better security software right when a new system is installed: "Why doesn't Microsoft offer virus defense upon installation - a safe version that protects the system against at least the most common types of attacks. A normal user isn't able to make his personal computer secure enough."

For now there is no defense against the "goner" virus. The user can only wait until the virus has exhausted itself. And remember in the future to be more careful with unusual e-mail attachments.

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