I once was asked by a friend to clean up his computer.

He had antiviral software, but never bothered to update it, or run scans. As a result, whenever he would open his browser, he found the homepage had been reset to a pornography site.

No big deal. I updated his viruses, ran the scans, removed the infected viruses, and then did spyware scans.

But when I checked his computer folders, I found one containing photos of voluptuous women, some in poses that would entice a hermit. I don’t do a thorough search to see if it included child porn or violent porn: just enough to verify that it was X rated photos of women. So I removed the photos with the spyware.

How did I know that the photos were placed there by some virus or spyware, and not simply a “feel good” file collected by my friend for his own use? Easy. He was gay…and didn’t peruse photos of naked women.

There are a lot of hackers out there, and a lot of viruses and spyware. And a lot of harm can be done to the computers of the computer illiterate. But with the draconian laws that are being proposed to fight copyright infringement, and laws that are already on the books against the possession of Child pornography, anyone could be prosecuted for what is on one’s laptop.

As I noted in a previous post, there are treaties on copyright infringement and a bill before Congress that would allow customs inspectors to check your computer (and your ipod) for unauthorized music/movies. These inspectors could also check your laptop for child pornography.

Well, everyone is against the billions of dollars “stolen” by copyright pirates, aren’t they? And who wants to defend those using child porn?

But there is a new twist on the problem.

The Boston Herald reports that a civil servant named Daniel Conley was found to have child pornography on his  work computer, and ended up losing his reputation, his job, and ended up facing child pornography possession charges. A closer examination of the computer showed that the images had been placed there by spammers/hackers.

Loehrs, (a computer expert) who spent a month dissecting the computer for the defense, explained in a 30-page report that the laptop was running corrupted virus-protection software, and Fiola was hit by spammers and crackers bombarding its memory with images of incest and pre-teen porn not visible to the naked eye.

Such worms have been around for awhile. This article from 1999 discusses the Melissa email virus:

A number of Microsoft Corp. Outlook/Exchange customers — including Microsoft and Intel Corp. — are being hit hard by a macro virus that is replicating infected pornography-related information throughout corporate email systems.

 This 2003 article estimates half a million computers infected with similar worms/computer viruses.

The worm, dubbed W32/Nyxem-E by F-Secure, arrives attached to an email message. It uses a variety of subject lines, including “School girl fantasies gone bad”. The body text also varies but it can include references to the Kama Sutra, the ancient Sanskrit book with pictures and explanations about different sexual positions.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for antivirus vendor Sophos, said in a statement: “This worm feeds on people’s willingness to receive salacious content on their desktop computer.”

Well, actually that is a little unfair. Sometimes those of us over the age of 50 (i.e. the computer semi literate) accidentally open instead of delete an email. And sometimes, such email come with a common name or a hint that seems like a personal message, especially to those of us who don’t understand the references and double meanings. Then there is the Yarner worm, which comes in email pretending to be an anti virus/anti worm program.

So what is the solution?

When I worked with the government, we had strict rules. Run updates weekly, or if there was an active virus threat, daily. Scan the computer daily for malware and viruses. Don’t open email from people you don’t know. Only open office related email at the office, and never open attachments unless you are very very sure that they are legitimate.

At home, do the same, and make sure your kids aren’t downloading from P2P networks, many of which include spyware or viruses as an unwelcome part of the downloads.

And ask your grandkid or neighbor’s kid to check out your computer if you think that your computer is infected, but you can’t figure out how to get it cleaned up. Don’t forget to check for “hidden” folders”.

Yes, there are “experts”, but for most low level users, a computer literate kid is the best resource.

For most of us, whose computers are used only for small businesses or personal use, such viruses are more an annoyance than a crime.

But hackers deliberately spreading viruses and worms to US Government computers is a major security threat, requiring a CyberCorps of part time geeks to help clean up the mess.

And such threats aren’t just to military related computers: Our Federal Clinic lost patient information for two days thanks to such a virus. Thank God we hadn’t yet changed to “electronic records” so all we had to do is pull the written charts.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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