The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Valentine virus warms up for love byte
- Indian hackers prepare to go one up on hawks and spoil the party worldwide

New Delhi, Feb. 12: Lovebirds, you had better watch out. If you receive an e-mail this Saturday that says “HappyValentine” or “Bmyvalentine2day” or any phrase that has the word “Valentine” in it, stay on your guard: it may not be that long-awaited missive from your beau but a virus designed to wreck your computer’s innards.

A group of hackers in India is preparing to unleash an attack that will hit computer systems worldwide.

Valentine’s Day — the Christian saint’s day that falls on February 14 and holds a special significance for young lovers — has already prompted hardline Hindu activists to threaten to attack anyone celebrating the event because it goes against the ethos of Indian culture.

Now, the hackers are getting into the act — though no one is quite sure whether they have any links with the self-appointed protectors of Hindu culture.

Officials at the Indian computer emergency response team (CERT-In) have been asked to keep a close watch on cyberspace since it is difficult to predict the potential damage of any virus.

CERT-In is a 40-member crack team set up by the department of information technology to monitor virus threats and offer solutions in the country. This organisation also offers training to the government as well as private agencies to make their websites secure.

There are no statistics available with CERT-In that identify the origin of a virus attack. “We do not have any such statistics. We started operations about a few years back. The most damaging viruses have originated from Asia and Latin American countries since these had the lowest protection systems,” said a senior official in CERT-In.

“But now most of the countries, including India, have security systems that match worldwide standards,” the official added.

In the last few weeks, computer system managers have had to go through one of the most harrowing periods in trying to stave off the “MyDoom” virus that crashes networks and impacts network speed. A number of mass-mailing viruses released on the Internet over the years have created a nerve-wracking experience for many countries.

This is particularly disturbing for the corporates that manage financial and banking transactions. While industry experts in the past have said India may not be hit badly due to low Internet penetration, they now feel that a virus attack can create havoc.

Indian has 4 million Internet connections and there are more than 25 million users. Most of the users access their e-mail from Internet connections at their office.

More than 90 per cent of the viruses are spread through unsolicited e-mail messages containing attachments sent to unsuspecting recipients. These messages may contain any word or phrase one can imagine like a return address or a provocative envelope.

While there are no methods yet to identify a virus-infected mail, the closest that one can go is that most of them say things that encourage the receiver to open them.

According to CERT, a centre of Internet security expertise, located at the Software Engineering Institute, operated by Carnegie Mellon University in the US, “This technique is called social engineering. Because we are trusting and curious, social engineering is often effective.”

“The widespread impact of these latest viruses, which rely on human intervention to spread, demonstrates the effectiveness of social engineering. It continues to be important to ensure that anti-virus software is used and updated regularly, that attachments are examined on mail servers, and that firewalls filter unneeded ports and protocols. It also remains necessary that users be educated about the dangers of opening attachments, especially executable attachments,” states the CERT Coordination Center.

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