Virus warning warning!

Filed Under: Malware, Podcast, Spam

Years ago, Friday 13th and thereabouts was considered a high risk period for virus infections by people with a predilection for having things to worry about. The reason for this was the once-widespread Jerusalem virus, which triggered on any Friday 13th, and a follow-up virus, called Durban, which targeted Saturday 14th in order to trick those of you who tried to sneak your PC clock forward to avoid the dreaded 13th.

These historical Computer Fear Days have been augmented in recent years by Valentine's Day spam warnings, since this is considered to be a high risk time of year by people with a predilection for having things to worry about.

Ironically, Friday 13th was the one day of the year that Jerusalem was NOT a virus. Only on every other day of the year it was viral, spreading via floppies and network drives, much as 2009's much talked-about Conficker virus (also known as Confick or Downadup) spreads via USB drives and network shares. But on Friday 13th, Jerusalem simply deleted any file you tried to run. Clearly, the time to have been watching out for it was not on Friday 13th, but all year round.

Jerusalem virus disassembly

Likewise, Valentine's Day is not the time of the year to begin watching out in case you accidentally purchase a piece of unwanted tat from a spammer. The time to avoid buying from spammers is, clearly, all year round.

But we knew that already.

Where things get interesting is that we have a triple play of Computer Fear Days coming up this weekend, with Friday the thirteenth immediately followed by a Saturday the fourteenth which doubles up as Valentine's Day.

Confluent with this Trifecta of Terror is a resurgence in virus outbreak hyperbole, thanks to warnings about the Conficker virus, which by some accounts had already infected a staggeringly precise 8,976,038 machines by the middle of last month.

What this means is that we should all be vigilant in case we are adversely affected this week by warnings about viruses. (But not by warnings about warnings about viruses, of course, such as this one.)

After all, it's no use worrying only when you are warned to on popular Computer Fear Days from anti-virus lore. If credulousness and fear are part of your anti-virus strategy, you must learn to display them all the time, not just when the media tell you to.

Incidentally, an appearance by the Jerusalem or Durban viruses can be considered unlikely this millennium. If you do find a sample of one of these viruses on your PC, you may want to visit one of the websites below before you decide what to do next:

http://amonline.net.au/palaeontology/
http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/

Seriously, neither fear nor part-time concern have any place in computer security. It's a truism for companies like Sophos to keep saying, "patch, update, protect." But truisms only get their name because they *are* true.

So be careful out there, and watch out for those warnings!

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog