Some `virus' damage spreads through trust in word of mouth

Helpline

January 10, 2002|By James Coates | James Coates,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A friend warned me that he might have given my computer a virus when he sent me an e-mail. This virus would, he said, wipe out the contents of my hard drive in 14 days. I fixed the "problem" by removing the "sulfnbk.exe" program. I later found that the virus was a hoax. How do I put this program back? Do I really need it?

Count yourself among thousands of victims of an amazingly effective trick by the mean-spirited know-it-alls who usually infect people's computers with problems like viruses, worms, destructive macros and ActiveX or Java denial of service attacks.

The sulfnbk.exe hoax simply tricks computer users into doing the damage by hand rather than using complex programming to cause the mischief. The ruse worked on a great many computer sophisticates as well as newbies.

Like a chain letter, this gambit works by exploiting people's trust of their friends. It tricks people into thinking that they have inadvertently infected friends with a virus. The friends of the original victim get an e-mail from somebody they trust telling them to do something that can create substantial problems with their computers - in this case delete a useful Windows module called sulfnbk.exe that allows computers to handle long file names.

You can get details and find a fix at www.symantec.com/avcenter /venc/data/pf/sulfnbk.exe.warning .html.

About once an hour I get a "pop-up" ad trying to interest me in buying a Web camera. The pop-up leaves me only two options: subscribe or "X" it away. When I do the latter, I get an "Iexplore has completed an illegal operation and will shut down." Then I have to reboot to get rid of it. What is "Iexplore" and how do I get rid of it?

Almost certainly your computer is using the maximum amount of its available memory and chip resources when you call up one Web page, and that page uses those nasty pop-up ads that consist of running an entirely new copy of the browser, which is called Iexplore.exe in Windows.

Maybe you can prevent those overloads by using the operating system's Alt + F4 command to close the pop-up window instead of clicking on the close button in the pop-up, which probably triggers a response from your computer to the advertiser telling how long you viewed the ad before shutting it. Maybe that last little use of resources is triggering the problem.

Also, make sure you are running fewer programs in the background the next time you go browsing. See if that frees up the resources that get lapped up by these unsolicited pitches.

James Coates writes for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. He can be reached at jcoates@tribune.com.

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