The anti-virus protection offered by Microsoft's Hotmail service hasn't been updated to protect users against the prolific SirCam worm.
Register readers have written in to inform us that the McAfee virus scanning engine used by Hotmail does not stop users either sending or receiving the bug which has become a major nuisance for Internet users this week.
Alex Shipp, a senior anti-virus technologist at MessageLabs, a managed services firm which scans its users email for malicious code, has confirmed the problem and said the lack of protection will give users a false sense of security.
The McAfee virus scanner (Security Services for MSN) used by the revamped Hotmail blocks earlier bugs, such as the Anna Kournikova worm, but not SirCam. We understand it is MSN who is most at fault here, for not updating virus definition files to detect a bug, which lest we forget, is now nine days old.
Informed sources tell us Hotmail's protection is updated on Thursday night, so hopefully things will be put right soon. In fairness Hotmail is one of the few Web-based email services to have any virus protection, but it is so widely used that if the service blocks the spread of SirCam it would make a great contribution to curtailing its outbreak.
MessageLabs has intercepted 25,622 copies of the virus so far, 3,557 of which were caught today, and it predicts that today marks the peak of the outbreak, after which the virus will slowly fade away. MessageLabs' Shipp said that because the virus (like Magistr) arrives with different filenames it will hang around longer than the Love Bug.
As previously reported, SirCam spreads itself as an attachment to email messages (or possibly network shares), and may in certain cases delete files from a victim's hard disk.
SirCam snaffles up files from a user's hard disk and wraps them in viral code before propagating itself to email addresses filched from a victim's address book or temporary Internet cache files. This is a particular feature of the bug that means it poses a grave threat to privacy. It also means a large number of whopper files are being generated, which could affect Internet performance even for people not infected by the bug.
The subject of an infected email will be the name of the attached file, and users can spot infected attachments because they feature a double extension, such as (.doc.pif). The text of emails may start "Hi! How are you?" and end "See you later. Thanks", or the Spanish equivalents, but variations on this are possible.
At the risk of stating the obvious its worth repeating, yet again, that users are advised to delete any suspicious emails without opening them and to update their antiviral protection. ®
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