Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Virus Infection

My face grew taut as I read the fax from the U.S. I received at the office the first thing in the morning. It was because the thing that I had been worried about for the last few days had become a reality. When I checked my e-mail around noon on the 10th, I was surprised to see several messages from a Japanese friend of mine living on the West Coast. The subject was "Hi", and it was written in English, in a very relaxed, informal way. "I found a great screen saver and I'm sending it to you. I know you'll like it. Gotta run," was all it said. (Screen savers protect computer monitors by displaying animated characters, designs, when not in use.) However, this friend is far from being computer savvy. I thought it a little strange, since he's more of a serious humanities-oriented person--not someone who's interested in anything related to computers. I should have been much more cautious since I received several e-mails from him on the same subject. People are funny, though. Even when confronted with the most contradictory information, we resolve the contradiction by interpreting it the way we want.

I interpreted this particular situation as, "Well, he probably has discovered how fun computers can be and even his personality has changed", and I carelessly opened the "screen saver" attachment on his e-mail. Not just one, but on all the messages sent to me. And, on all of them, a small box popped up after launching, and, after a few seconds, an error message would appear and then freeze. That's all it was. "Is that it?" I thought, and continued working on the computer. After a while, when I was going to shut the computer down, an error message I'd never seen before came up, "."?file does not exist." This is when I first thought, "My computer may have been infected with a virus." The fax I received this morning was a very polite apology, written in Japanese, "I sent you a message, not knowing my computer was infected with a virus. Please accept my sincere apologies?" He probably sent the fax either because his computer is still not working properly or he thought a fax would be a faster way to bring my attention to the problem. This was an example of his very serious character--the relaxed style of the e-mail had been a warning of trouble.

After reading the fax, I got an anti-virus program from the IT specialist at work. Fortunately, the name of the virus was written in the fax, so we were able to take care of it immediately, and, after backing up all my important data on a CD, we ran the program. After this, I stopped getting the error message every time I tried to shut down the computer. However, we're not sure if the scan is complete. According to the specialist in our IT Department, we need to "reinstall Windows", but, if we do this, I won't be able to use my computer for several days, so I've decided to leave it as "homework for the winter break."

I want to reassure my readers, however, that I do not use either Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express for e-mail. This e-mail software has a monopoly throughout most of the world. In order to infect as many people as possible, a large number of the viruses, including the one which infected my computer, automatically sends out messages to all addresses in the address book of this software. Since I don't use this software, I do not infect others with this virus. In the past, I've written something to the effect of, "The diversity of Nature protects against fragility and ensures the stability of Nature." I am now, more than ever before, keenly aware of how very true this statement is.

- MT

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