Hopefully that made you laugh, and really, really, hopefully you know this is false!! An EMAIL VIRUS is a computer virus spread via electronic mail, usually in the form of a clickable link or file attachment infected with malware. When the user clicks on the attachment, a download is invoked which infects the computer and causes undesirable effects, ranging from impaired functionality and behavior to major disruption in regards to productivity and business revenue.
An email virus can take different forms. Some attack a computer’s operating system while others corrupt or delete saved files. Almost all email viruses have the capability of installing programs that send copies of malicious code to a user’s contacts. And, all take advantage of human curiosity and are socially engineered to persuade users to click on or open infected file.
An early email virus was the Melissa virus in 1999. Melissa preyed on people’s trust by compromising email addresses and sending messages to their respective contacts, suggesting a document was attached that the recipient(s) requested. Clicking the attachment would immediately send the same email to the first fifty (50) people in the recipient’s contacts, and the cycle would continue as such. This rapid, self-replicating virus would often cause email servers to crash because of the volume of email data it produced.
Following Melissa, the infamous ILOVEYOU email virus struck machines worldwide in 2000, causing an estimated $10 to $15 billion in damages. The subject line and body of the ILOVEYOU email virus was everything a high school love letter was made of, but opening it would instantly curb any feelings of puppy love. It would immediately begin destroying files, and automatically sending the same or a similar message to the contacts in a victim’s address book. Some strands of this email virus would even invoke keylogging capabilities to give hackers access to the victim’s usernames and passwords. In just two weeks, the ILOVEYOU virus had infected almost 10% of computers worldwide.
Since those early days of the email virus, modern strands have evolved with the times—donning abilities and appearances which enable them to slide pass anti-virus (AV) and security software. Almost all of them, however, rely on lapses in human judgement to be effective and in turn, spread in the wild. Entire methodologies are engineered around such vulnerabilities, enticing users with promises to find love and money, or to satisfy lust or provide information. In fact, today’s major security threat of ransomware is often spread as an email virus.
The Dharma Onion Ransomware, for example, is spread via email under the guise of an invoice, customer request, or other mundane (but essential) business correspondence. This level of deception poses a tremendous threat to the productivity and security of private industries and governmental organizations. And while less obvious than a slice of onion in your DVD drive, you should always be alert to any unusual emails—even from known sources—that smell just a little “off” when compared to the usual contents of your inbox.