On Friday, December 17, Gerald Larson, Senior Vice President for Microsoft’s Internet Software Interfacing Department, issued a press release and appeared on CNN to announce the appearance of a vicious new computer virus circulating the internet via email. This new virus, called the Merry Christmas Virus because it is most commonly delivered by an email entitled “Merry Christmas”, marks a new step in the evolution of email viruses.
Until now, email viruses have been limited in their scope of attack, only able to unleash themselves when downloaded, and only able to damage specific files and components of computer hardware. However, this new virus is able to infect a machine when the user opens the email…there is no attachment that must be opened! Simply opening the Merry Christmas letter infects the machine. Microsoft did not explain HOW the virus is able to accomplish this feat, for fear of virus-creators all over the world stepping up their own work. Once it’s in the host computer, the virus acts like typical hardware-destroying viruses, the most dangerous type of email virus.
By overwriting some key .dll files, Merry Christmas is able to rewrite vital lines of script in the computer’s registry, taking control of the computer’s “brain”, so to speak. But this virus seeks out the video display properties of the system registry—a component rarely, if ever, tampered with by viruses up until now—and corrupts the automatic repixillary imaging. In plain english: the virus can basically take over your screen. By manipulating the contrast and brightness of individual pixels on your screen, the virus (at apparently random intervals, ranging from every 5 to 35 minutes) causes the monitor to flash in a brilliant strobe-lighting effect. While simply being annoying to some users, this devious trick can in fact be quite dangerous. Just like the infamous Pokemon episode in Japan, these flashing lights can cause some people to experience epileptic seizures, even ones who’ve never suffered from epilepsy before. Larson reported that at least one teen in Iowa had already been seen in an emergency room due to seizures suffered after using his computer, but the teen’s name was not released, nor was the location of the hospital. Other, less dangerous, reactions to the bright flashes can include momentary bowel or bladder incontinence and temporarily blurred vision.
Please, be careful this holiday season. Don’t open any holiday emails from sources you don’t know are secure!