A Trojan horse program called AOL4FREE.COM that deletes all files on a hard drive is circulating on the Internet, according to the Energy Department.
The agency's Computer Incident Advisory Capability unit says this is different from the AOL4FREE virus warning hoax message that had been widely circulated earlier. Trojan horses are not dubbed viruses because they do not spread to other computers, but they can still seriously damage the PC that is attacked.
The program has been sent to at least several hundred people and probably more, said William Orvis, a member of the Computer Incident Advisory Capability team. He said the presence of the two programs--the AOL4FREE virus, which is a hoax, and the Trojan horse AOL4FREE.COM--could create confusion.
"We would like people to stop passing around the hoax message, because they get people worried about something that isn't real," Orvis said. "Now there is a real program out there by a similar name that will thrash your machine."
A message on the Energy Department's Web site reads: "CIAC has obtained a Trojaned copy of the AOL4FREE.COM program that, if run, deletes all the files on a user's hard drive. If you are emailed this file or if you have downloaded it from an online service, do not attempt to run it."
It goes on to say that if the program is received as an email attachment, users should not attempt to open it.
Computers that run on Windows-based PCs are susceptible to the program, the agency says. The original AOL4FREE was a Macintosh program for fraudulently creating free AOL accounts, according to the Web site. The program's creator has pleaded guilty to defrauding AOL.