Are You Accidentally Spreading Computer Viruses?
Cyber terrorists take advantage of those who fall for scams. Their tactics get you to allow your computer to spread viruses and malware to your friends without you knowing.
Even computer literate people can be fooled. You might even unknowingly be spreading computer viruses among your friends.
The trick that these cyber criminals use is to make it look like you're getting an email from a trusted friend. So you open it and click on the attachment, which plants malware on your machine.
What that malware does is extremely dangerous.
How Trusted Friends Spread Malware
Here's an example. I once received similar emails from two friends at about the same time. Both emails had a link to a site and mentioned that I should look at this interesting site. However, nothing was said about why I should look at it.
It was immediately obvious to me that both my friends had a virus that spreads by looking like it was sent from a trusted friend.
Instead of clicking the link, which I knew was asking for trouble, I just deleted the emails. These types of emails can contain a link to a site that plants a virus or malware on your computer. That's why I won’t follow the link.
Getting two similar emails from two people at the same time was definitely a clue that those emails were not written by my friends.
Even if I had gotten just one, I still would not have clicked the link. I'll tell you why...
Since there was no information as to why I should follow the link, it was clear that something was wrong. If it were real, they would have or should have said something more about it.
If a friend sends me an email without having the courtesy of including a meaningful reference in the subject field, too bad. They should know better. I just won’t open it for my own safety. They need to be taught proper computer etiquette. Teach this to your friends. Spread the knowledge for their safety and yours.
How a Computer Virus Duplicates and Spreads
A computer virus can copy itself and spread to other computers.
- It does that by looking for email addresses in your email directory as well as any email addresses contained in the "TO:" field or the "CC:" field of emails you received from other people.
- Then it uses your own email program to send an email to all your friends, like the one I was talking about above. That email contains a copy of the virus as an attached file.
- Each time any recipient opens the attachment, the process is continued. It keeps repeating this propagation from one person's computer to another.
Your friends may be making it easy for these viruses to spread by not hiding email addresses in the "BCC" (blind copy) field when they send a message to multiple friends at once.
If any one of the recipients has a virus that spreads like this, each of your friends gets an email with the virus. Friends who are not computer savvy will click the link and continue spreading the virus because they think they received the email from a trusted friend.
That explains how I got two of those emails at the same time. It happens quickly. You have 10 friends and they each have 10 friends. That is already 100 copies of this virus. It just keeps duplicating itself that way. They each have 10 friends, now there are 1000 copies.
By the 4th generation there are 10,000 copies! By the 5th generation... 100,000.
You can see that a million people will have the virus just after six repeated generations of friends opening the email attachment.
This means that you are responsible for millions of cyber attacks if you are one of the people in that chain.
How This Can Be Used in Cyber Warfare
Some of these viruses were created for one reason. They may be benign to you and me, but they have a purpose of attacking a specific target.
They just use us to spread the attacking software in search of something specific so that it can carry out its task of destruction.
Remember what I explained about a million copies existing in just six generations. Eventually a copy of it will reach its desired destination. Possibly finding a computer in the Pentagon or the U.S. Defense Department and sending back all the data on those computers to the host.
In May 2011 defense contractor Lockheed Martin was hit by a cyber attack made possible by malware that was carelessly introduced into their system.1
It requires a human to allow a virus to become active. Too many people allow themselves to be fooled by emails that ask to click a link that ends up freeing the malware that activates a virus. They need to learn to do their due diligence with email requests to click a link.
There are ways to investigate the actual source of the email from its header info. The sender's address is useless because it can be forged, or the sender may have a virus that is spreading by sending copies of itself to all their friends.
The Consequences of Cyber Warfare
This carelessness can lead to cyber warfare.2
- A virus might be searching for a control server of a nuclear power plant to instruct it to disable the cooling system and create a meltdown.
- Another might shut down the US power grid or disrupt telecommunications.
Malware in Computer Chips
Over the past few years it has been discovered that the Chinese have been implementing malware into the chips we import for our computers. Chips with malware or viruses that are used in military applications could interfere with a weapon’s intended purpose.3
So far these viruses have been stopped in their tracks before doing anything really bad. However, many of them already had infiltrated government computers to get vital information that the hacker needed to get their hands on.
On the other hand, they may have been paid to do it for someone who wants the data with a desire to trigger something more serious.
These are Cyber Terrorist
The outcome can be catastrophic:
- They are using the Internet to create destruction in the real world.4 The data these hackers find is sold to terrorists planning worse catastrophes.
- They can gain control over a computer server that controls telecommunications, the national power grid, or anything related to national security.
- Secret government information can be used against the U.S. and hinder our national security.
Don't include yourself in the chain that leads to this turmoil. Be alert to emails that you think have come from a trusted friend asking you to follow a link. Otherwise you will be the trusted friend who spreads mayhem.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Glenn Stok