WASHINGTON -- Anti-virus companies scrambled to protect their customers against a new viruslike e-mail attack Tuesday that purports to be a computer screen saver program.
Security company McAfee reported thousands of its clients sent in copies of the worm, called "Goner." An Internet worm has the ability to spread to other computers on its own.
"It's very harmless looking," McAfee virus research manager April Goostree said. The e-mail has a subject line of "Hi," and asks the user to check a screen saver program, which is attached.
If the recipient runs the screen saver, the computer becomes infected. Like many e-mail attacks, it sends itself out to everyone in the victim's address book. It can also sends itself through the instant messaging program ICQ.
In addition to ICQ, Goner affects only Microsoft's Outlook and Outlook Express e-mail programs on computers running Windows.
Computer experts advise that people not open unexpected e-mail attachments, even if the sender is someone familiar. Computer users should update their antivirus software at least weekly.
Goner also attempts to delete critical files for any security or anti-virus program the victim might have installed.
McAfee has placed Goner on "outbreak" status. The last virus with that status was the "Love Letter" attack, which caused billions of dollars in damages worldwide.
"It's moving extremely quickly," Goostree said. "We're getting hundreds and hundreds of samples in a very short time."
Anti-virus companies received the first samples of Goner from Europe, particularly France and Germany. Ian Hameroff, a business manager at Computer Associates, said about 30 of its clients worldwide reported getting the worm.
By Tuesday afternoon, several major anti-virus companies including McAfee and Symantec had released updates so their software can detect Goner.