Antivirus-software maker Panda Software issued an alert Thursday after receiving about eight reports of the virus, including one from a major aviation company. The company discovered the problem before the virus could do any significant damage.
Panda has given the virus its highest rating of potential risk, distribution and destruction. However, Panda competitor Symantec considers the virus less of a threat, saying it received only six reports through Wednesday, indicating that it was spreading too slowly to cause any real damage.
While the distribution has been limited, the virus still poses a serious threat, said Steve Demogines, director of tech support at Panda. The Chernobyl virus can erase files and disable computers.
The other factor that makes it dangerous, Demogines said, is that it uses a "social engineering" technique that could prove effective. The term social engineering refers to the practice of coming up with intriguing e-mail subject lines to fool the unsuspecting into opening virus-infected files.
The Lopez file's subject line reads "Where are you," and the attachment is
Gartner analysts Maurene Grey and Joyce Graff say e-mail viruses are hitting enterprises more often, but the
reason does not lie in new virus technology but in the complacency of
people who continue to open infected e-mail messages.
"Virus writers are still successfully using the social engineering technique to trick the unwary user," Panda said in a statement Thursday.
The Jennifer Lopez file is the latest in a string of mass-mailing worm viruses--copycat versions of the AnnaKournikova virus--that spread across the globe in February by encouraging victims to click on a supposed picture of Russian tennis star Anna Kournikova.
The Anna virus had the ability to mail itself to a large number of Internet users but did not damage computer systems. Its main threat was that it might clog servers. The virus inside the Lopez file packs a more destructive payload.
When the W95/CIH virus is unleashed, it goes on a search-and-destroy mission, according to Panda.
The virus seeks out and overwrites data on the hard disk. It also infects the Windows installation folder and can disable a computer by overwriting BIOS information on the PC's motherboard, preventing a user from booting up, Demogines said.
The virus is also an example of a joke coming to life. A Lopez virus is part of a long-running gag on numerous Web sites and mailing lists devoted to tech humor. A typical entry lists numerous fictitious viruses, including: "Jennifer Lopez Virus: your computer looks nice but doesn't work very well."