March 07, 2004

Careless talk spreads viruses

One morning this week I heard an NPR newsreader say (trying to be helpful to us all) that there is a new computer virus on the loose and you are warned "not to open an attachment unless it is from someone you know." Sheesh! Are they insane? How could anyone be as careless with the language as this? Surely NPR's news team has people who know enough to be aware that the Bagle virus (which accounts for MOST of my mail at the moment) forges the names in its From-lines, picking people extremely well known to the sender (by borrowing names from other mail or from address book files belonging to the idiots who still use Outlook Express). As with the transmission of certain other viruses, you're actually more likely to get it from people you know well than to get it from a stranger. I am getting virus packages by email daily from trusted friends, from colleagues, down the hall, from family members... Yet I have never had a virus infect my computer, because I never download mail attachments, regardless of whether from a stranger or from a lover or from the administration of my university, unless certain very stringent restrictions are satisfied:

  1. the file opening is not being done under Windows (generally, that is enough to guarantee safety in itself); or
  2. the attachment is a PDF file (as far as I know they are safe, unlike Word files and most other kinds of files); or
  3. I know exactly what the attachment is and have confirmed by exchange of messages with a thoroughly trusted and computer-savvy user that the apparent sender is the real sender and the attachment is a safe file from an uninfected machine.

And even then, in the latter case, I still back up all crucial data files and say a short prayer. God bless you and keep you.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at March 7, 2004 06:36 PM