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The Tentacle


December 10, 2008

In Your “Koobface”

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Last week I had all the pleasure and honor to be among the 120 million users of the social networking web site “Facebook” who were targeted by a computer virus known by the unusual name of “Koobface.”

 

A spokesperson for Facebook was quoted suggesting that only “a very small percentage of Facebook users have been affected…”

 

Well, I guess last Wednesday was my unlucky day as I was one of the “very small percentage” to have my computer system successfully attacked.

 

After 20 years of being an early adopter of “all-things-technological” and a rather intense Internet user, I have heretofore avoided having my computer significantly compromised or damaged by an Internet virus.

 

I have witnessed colleagues, friends, and family members go through the experience, and it certainly did not seem like it was anyone’s idea of a good time. However, I always felt that I was sophisticated enough to avoid it.

 

Oh, how I was wrong, wrong – and wrong.

 

Although I am better now – I’m told the twitching will stop soon, I lost 48 hours of my life restoring my operating system, virus protection and retrieving and recovering over 20 years of data. Fortunately I use a good data back-up protocol and maintained an access to all my files.

 

Unfortunately, the secret to restoring data is that – in my case – it took 24 hours to reload the data alone. Nevermind the time and frustration of having to remove the 166 infestations I gathered in the virus attack.

 

According to several published accounts, a component of this version of malicious software installs a “bot” (software robot) on your computer that calls out for and attracts other malicious applications to load on to your computer.

 

Technically, this version of the “Koobface” virus is actually a “trojan worm” that disguises itself as an email from facebookmail.com.

 

The “trojan” acts by “executing a worm called ‘W32.Koobface.A’ that searches for cookies on the user’s machine” according to one article on the web site “Schipul.”

 

Within seconds, your computer becomes the object of a feeding frenzy of science fiction proportions, and your relationship with your computer quickly becomes the plot of a horror movie.

 

You know, I’m really not making this up. Living through it was like a living science fiction movie. Only, in the case of my experience, if I had not witnessed it with my very own eyes, I would find any science fiction movie with this plot to be too unbelievable.

 

There were a number of informative articles written about “zero day,” as last Wednesday was referred to by several computer security experts. “Zero day” is the name for the first day of a significant virus attack in the Internet-world. It is the time period that takes place before the various software protection services can update protections against a particular attack.

 

Perhaps at this point I should back up and explain that I am usually easily attracted to any new technology or Internet phenomena. However I initially drew the line with Facebook. It seemed to be a pop-culture manifestation of the youngest generation of technology users and it presented as superficial and vacuous.

 

Interestingly enough, it was started in February 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, who was a student at Harvard at the time. At first, the site was limited to Harvard students and then it quickly expanded to other colleges. It did not open up to the rest of the public until 2006.

 

According to an article in “The Economist” last January, it has since become the fastest growing web site in the world.

 

Through a series of events I discovered about a year ago that many of the journalists and writers that I keep up with are members of Facebook.

 

Considering the mercurial nature of employment for journalists these days, newspaper reporters are frequently changing jobs or leaving newspapers all together.

 

Facebook provides – for me – an easy and fun way to keep up with these colleagues long after they leave the area. It is one-stop shopping for keeping up with their employment, marriages, children, and the cutting edge of media, books and art.

 

Recently, a number of elected officials have also begun to join; and – as a matter of fact – in the recent elections, many candidates for political office learned that it is an excellent media for getting out one’s message.

 

Until my unpleasant experience last week, I have enjoyed Facebook.

 

However, I fell victim to the dark side of the Internet in a manner that was explained quite well in a Reuter’s article: “Koobface spreads by sending notes to friends of someone whose PC has been infected. The messages, with subject headers like, ‘You look just awesome in this new movie,’ direct recipients to a website where they are asked to download what it claims is an update of Adobe Systems Inc.'s Flash player…”

 

If you are foolish enough to click for that update, as I was, the damage is inflicted in nanoseconds.

 

“(U)sers tend to be far less suspicious of messages they receive in the network. ‘People tend to let their guard down. They think you've got to log in with an account, so there is no way that worms and other viruses could infect them,’” said Chris Boyd, a researcher with FaceTime Security Labs.

 

Unfortunately, between the spam, the phishing, and the hackers, it would appear that the criminals in the Internet world are making considerable inroads in eroding the benefits that Internet technology can provide to our everyday quality of life.

 

The ratio of spam-to-real emails on one of my email accounts is currently 50 to 1. It is not fun worrying about every other click of the mouse…

 

I wish that somehow there was some hope that solutions are being developed to combat the criminal element on the Internet. However, the technicians I spoke with last week seemed just as pessimistic as I feel at the moment.

 

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org

 



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