Sex sells, even for viruses

Virus writers have learned what motivates people on-line: sex. A recent virus attached to an e-mail purported to show a movie of someone’s naked wife, sending itself to the victims’ friends and deleting important Windows system files so that victims have to reinstall the operating system.

The virus, dubbed “NakedWife,” was rated a “high risk” because of its fast spread and nasty payload. Written in Visual Basic, the virus arrived as an e-mail attachment that looks like a Macromedia Inc. Flash movie. When it is opened, it sends itself to all recipients in Microsoft Corp. Outlook’s address book and then deletes numerous Windows system files.

“This can take a huge chunk out of your day, if not the entire day, to redo” the operating system, said April Goostree, virus research manager at Corp.

The new virus comes one year after the “ILoveYou” virus, which purported to be a Valentine’s Day e-mail, and one month after the “Tennis” virus, which purported to contain a photo of Russian tennis star Anna Kournikova. The Tennis e-mail did nothing more than send itself on to others, whereas the Love virus overwrote audio files and deleted image files.

“We’re seeing a lot more of these socially engineered viruses that are preying on people’s curiosity,” Goostree said. As users become more savvy and learn to scan attachments and take other precautions, virus writers are having to resort to other measures to get people to open attachments, she added.

“NakedWife,” which is classified as a worm due to its self-replication capabilities and a Trojan horse because it appears to be something harmless, is believed to have originated in the U.S. The first reports of infection came from a branch of the U.S. military that Goostree declined to name.

E-mail users generally are discouraged from opening e-mail attachments unless they know what they contain. Users should delete the e-mail if they receive it. Software from most antivirus vendors has been updated to prevent infection from “NakedWife.”