Gartner Warns of E-Mail Viruses this Holiday Season

Enterprises report second outbreak of phony greeting card worm

Beware of e-mail viruses this holiday season. A recent report by Gartner Inc. says enterprises are acknowledging a second outbreak of a mass-mailing computer worm that poses as an electronic greeting card.

The scam works as follows: An e-mail prompts its recipient to download an application to view an e-card they’ve been sent. When the recipient clicks on the file to download it, the same e-mail is sent to every address in the victim’s Microsoft Outlook contact file.

The worm, called FriendGreetings, must be opened and authorized for installation before it sends itself out. From a technology standpoint, the virus offers nothing new. It relies on a user’s lack of diligence in avoiding opening suspicious e-mail or e-mail attachments, and takes advantage of their curiosity to discover who sent them a card.

Much like the ILOVEYOU virus, FriendGreetings appeals to a user’s emotions to overcome their hesitancy to open unfamiliar e-mail attachments. According to Gartner, this approach has proven to be among the most effective mechanisms used by spammers to elicit a response. The research firm cites the well-documented cases of users opening the ILOVEYOU virus even after the widespread damage it had caused had been front-page news, as proof of how receptive users are to emotional ploys.

Gartner also points to greed as a major reason for the spread of e-mail spam and viruses. “Greed contributes to the continuing proliferation of the 10-year-old ‘Nigerian scam,’ in which users send $30,000 in ‘funds transfer fees’ to collect their ‘million-dollar grant.’ (Of course, the money never materializes and the unlucky victim is simply out of $30,000, without any recourse available.),” notes the Gartner report.

Based on the spread of FriendGreetings, Gartner feels IS organizations need to do a better job educating users on how to protect themselves against e-mail viruses. “User gullibility spreads viruses faster than technology can catch them,” says Gartner. “During the 2002 holiday season, users should be careful of what they open. Just as there are more pickpockets among the holiday shoppers, there are also more pickpockets on the Internet.”

About the Author

Matt Migliore is regular contributor to ENTmag.com. He focuses particularly on Microsoft .NET and other Web services technologies. Matt was the editor of several technology-related Web publications and electronic newsletters, including Web Services Report, ASP insights and MIDRANGE Systems.