Junk Mail and Virus Information

When you first go 'online' there is no sign of junk mail. Every email which comes in is gratefully received and carefully read. After a few weeks your first junk email will arrive and it will be followed by a slow trickle of perhaps one or two every week. No problem - its quick and easy to delete them.

You may decide after a while to send an article off to one of the internet newsgroups.
You may publish your email address on a website so people can contact you.
You may purchase a few items online and type your email address onto the purchase form.
Every time you send an email your address goes into someone's address book.

A few months go by and then you notice that you are getting two or three junk mails every day.
Its a minor nuisance but you can live with it.

After two years the junk mail is becoming a problem. You are receiving 40 or 50 every day and its becoming annoying having to sift through them carefully in the hope of finding one written by a real person. Even worse, some of these will be harmful viruses pretending to be messages from friends to avoid suspicion. (The virus has found your email address in their address book.)
At this stage you start to notice that it is taking quite a long time to download your email every day. If you have a dial-up connection then you realise that all this junk mail is costing you time and money in phone calls. (Some viruses can be quite large eg. 150KB)

The final stage comes when you realise that all the important information on your computer has been destroyed by a virus which you clicked on by accident when you were sifting through 200 junk mails. Then you have to spend a couple of weeks re-installing all the software and files.
Usually you will have to pay someone with the expertise needed to help you.

So you decide that you cannot live with the situation any longer and abandon your original email address and create a new one. This is a serious problem especially if you have a business because your old email address has been printed on all your literature and distributed to all your suppliers and customers. Even if you do not have a business it takes time and effort to circulate
your new email address and there is the fear that an important email might not reach you because it has been sent to the old address.

Junk Mail Software - How it works

A junk mail program collects email addresses from two main sources - websites and newsgroups. It starts by using search engines to collect website addresses. Each page of the website is scanned for email addresses by searching each line for the '@' character. In the case of newsgroups it searches each article header and picks out the 'From' address After a few weeks the software will have a collection of 6 million or so email addresses which will be sold to commercial companies and distributed worldwide on CDROM. So once your email address has been collected its impossible to delete it because copies have been distributed all round the world.

Email Virus Software - How it works

A typical email virus arrives in your mailbox disguised as a letter from a friend or business contact to avoid suspicion. Sometimes there is a short cryptic general purpose message like 'What do you think of this?' and an attachment. Often the subject line is copied from a genuine email on your friend's computer to make it realistic. Alternatively there can be a message to persuade you that you have accidentally received some exciting or confidential information. eg. 'Compromising Photograph' or 'Password list enclosed' When you open the attachment the virus is activated.

The virus starts off by infecting your standard email software and other common programs. Then it collects all the email addresses from your address book. Also it searches your 'Temporary Internet Files' folder which contains copies of pages from all the websites you have visited recently. Email addresses from these web pages are added to the list. Then the virus waits until you go online. When this happens it silently sends out email copies of itself using its own email software. (So your normal email program does not know about the extra email being sent out) The virus email goes out with a false sender address chosen from another contact in your address book so that the recipient cannot identify the true source. So if you have Friend A and Friend B in your address book then Friend A will think that the virus came from Friend B.

The final stage is triggered after a few weeks when the virus 'payload' is activated.

Typical examples

  • Initial effect is often that the computer runs very slow or becomes unstable.
    (Because the processor is spending 90% of its time working for the virus)
  • Confidential documents can be transmitted to unknown persons.
  • Keyboard recorder captures your online banking passwords and other web activity and secretly transmits overseas.
  • Malicious people gain control your computer and use it to attack websites or silently dial premium rate telephone numbers without your knowledge.
  • Final effect can be a hard disk wipe with all data destroyed.

Email Precautions

  • Switch your compose email options to 'Plain Text'.
    By default MS Outlook is set to transmit messages in HTML format.
    This is often used by viruses so your message may be viewed with suspicion or quarantined.
  • Be VERY suspicious of email containing short general purpose messages and attachments.
  • Check the file name extension of the attachment very carefully.
    Anything ending with .exe or .vbs or .pif or .reg is likely to be a virus.
    (These are often disguised as .JPG.exe and .JPG.vbs or similar)
  • If in doubt DELETE or reply with 'I dont understand this - please explain.'

BoxNum Solution

  • BoxNum does not allow messages with attachments so it cannot transmit email viruses.
  • Junk mail software cannot collect the email address of the box owner.
    Also it cannot transmit a message because it cannot provide answers to the questions.
    The questions/answers can be easily changed to make any answer list impossible to maintain.
  • A BoxNum link on a website does not contain an email address so it is invisible to junk mail software. Even if the junk mail software is modified to recognise BoxNum links the program would never have sufficient knowledge or intelligence to answer the individual questions.