Santa Monica College

E-mail viruses FAQ...


Q. Why have I been getting "undeliverable" notices from people I've never e-mailed before?
A. This is the result of a new e-mail worm/virus named Klez, which sends an e-mail message -- usually with the "undeliverable" subject line -- to a local address book entry, spoofing its origin as another address book entry. In this way, a previous correspondent whose machine is infected may send you virus-triggered messages as if from someone else with whom you have never corresponded.

Q. That's absolutely diabolical, isn't it?
A. Yes, it is. The latest variant of the virus Klez.h even offers itself as an anti-virus tool! Virus writers continue to grow more clever and devious with each incarnation, but I am confident that SMC e-mail users are intelligent enough to remain vigilant in guarding against email-borne viruses.

Q. What does it mean when I get a message with two attachments -- one of which is named Alert.txt?
A. It means the the message did contain a virus but was disinfected prior to delivery into your mailbox by the anti-virus software running on the SMC e-mail server. A secondary attachment named Alert.txt usually means the anti-virus software has rendered the attachment harmless and unable to propagate further; nevertheless, deletion of such messages is highly recommended.

Q. What about false alarms -- you know, viruses that aren't real?
A. These are known as hoaxes, and in many ways, they can be nearly as disruptive as viruses. They exploit well-founded wariness about viruses in an effort to swamp the Internet with unneeded traffic. The best advice I can give regarding hoaxes is to ignore them entirely (but at the very least, please refrain from spreading the false news that they are authentic viruses). You might also make it a habit to regularly check my Virus Alerts webpage, which catalogs both viruses and hoaxes encountered at the College (or by its official Internet correspondents).

Q. What can I do to help make sure an e-mail virus attack doesn't happen again?
A. First and foremost, never open an attachment that comes from an unknown source or that arrives in an unusual manner. If you aren't expecting a message with an attachment, call the sender to confirm it was sent intentionally. If you aren't sure whether to open it, don't. Second, try to avoid sending attachments yourself, especially to large groups of recipients. Cut and paste text out of your document into the message you're composing; it's a little extra step for you, but it means less anxiety for your recipients. Also, some workstations have what are called Office viewers (e.g., for Word, Excel, and Powerpoint). You can save attachments and use the viewers to open them -- the viewers display the file but cannot execute them or propagate any viruses they contain. Finally, make sure your workstation's anti-virus software updates regularly, ideally once a day. Remember to schedule a time when you're likely to be logged into your machine; otherwise, the updates may never happen. If you need help configuring the update schedule, call the IT Helpdesk at ext. 3011.

Q. To whom should I send alerts about e-mail viruses?
A. You should first check the VIRUS ALERTS webpage for the latest known threats (as well as hoaxes). You can always send e-mail virus alerts to Postmaster, who will reply to you whether the virus is genuine or a hoax. Refrain from forwarding alerts to other faculty or staff members, since the virus may turn out not to be authentic. Rest assured that all the contents of mailboxes are regularly scanned for viruses, and it is very unlikely you will receive an e-mail which can damage your computer. Nevertheless, better safe than sorry. The Postmaster will investigate any alerts that threaten the integrity of the e-mail system at Santa Monica College.

Q. Is there a "safe" way to open attachments?
A.  Good practices are to only open attachments you are expecting from people you know and to confirm with the sender that the message was sent intentionally.   Often when people get infected by viruses, the virus will use the e-mail address book to propagate itself.  Viruses then are sent unwittingly from one user's mailbox to another.  If the person who sent the attachment doesn't remember sending the file, do not open the attachment.  Make sure your antivirus software is up-to-date, both at work and at home.  For more information, check this link.

Q. Are there websites that I can check to find out more about particular viruses or hoaxes?
A. Yes, try McAfee or Symantec.

Last Updated: 08 June, 2011

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