Q: Is the Conficker worm making the rounds again or are the email warnings a hoax? — Leslie

A: The current crop of ‘Conficker.B ’email warnings that are purporting to be from Microsoft are in fact a hoax that’s trying to infect computers with the fake ‘Antivirus 2010’ program.

This is just another example of the creative methods that are constantly being generated to trick folks into installing fake security software onto their computer, which then coaxes them to purchase the ‘fix’ for a fake infection.

A recent study claimed that over 250 different types of ‘scareware’ programs are in circulation and this is just the most recent attempt to get people to give up credit card information for a fake infection.

In general the subject line refers to a ‘Conficker.B Infection Alert’ and the body of the message reads:

Dear Microsoft Customer,

Starting 18/10/2009 the ‘Conficker’ worm began infecting Microsoft customers unusually rapidly. Microsoft has been advised by your Internet provider that your network is infected. To counteract further spread we advise removing the infection using an antispyware program. We are supplying all affected Windows Users with a free system scan in order to clean any files infected by the virus.

Please install attached file to start the scan. The process takes under a minute and will prevent your files from being compromised. We appreciate your prompt cooperation.

Regards,

Microsoft Windows Agent #2 (Hollis)

Microsoft Windows Computer Safety Division

The message is accompanied by a file attachment that has varying names, but usually has the .zip extension.

If you are paying attention, you should be able to spot many red flags from this message.

The first one is the date format (18/10/2009) which is not common in the U.S. and the second is the poor grammar (unusually rapidly).

What isn’t as obvious to non-technical users is that Microsoft would never be contacted by your Internet provider if your network was truly infected. If anything, your Internet provider would shut your connection down or disable your ability to send email if your system was infected with many of the silent malware programs that silently spew out spam.

Microsoft would never send a file attachment (they always use links back to their Web site) and you should never trust any .zip files (compressed files that could contain virtually anything inside) unless you are absolutely certain of the contents.

Finally, I have yet to see any official Microsoft email messages that had a salutation that started with ‘Regards’ and there is no such thing as the ‘Microsoft Windows Computer Safety Division.’

The only security warnings that you will ever get emailed to you from Microsoft would come as a result of you pro-actively signing-up for their ‘Security Bulletins’ and the format of the messages always starts with “Begin PGP Signed Message.”

A good practice for the future whenever you receive any suspicious email warnings is to copy the first paragraph and paste it into Google as a search. If the information is legit, you will find Web sites that will confirm the information and if it’s a fake, you will quickly get confirmation as well.

Ken Colburn
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show