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Virus Morphing

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 6/21/02 issue of R&R Targets tend to move in the digital music space, and if you didn't have enough to worry about with CARP fees, audience retention and making your website relevant to your listeners and customer, now you have a new problem on your hands.

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The old rules said that if a file was just a file, you didn't have to scan it for a virus. And just when you thought that non-executable data files were safe, code jockeys have blown those rules out of the water.

Files like MP3, wav and graphics like GIF and JPG, which only are supposed to contain pure data, are now being rigged up with executable code (an application or program) that can wreak havoc on your hard drive. The largest anti-virus companies have received proof-of-concept virus examples from several hackers who have managed to embed executable virus code in seemingly innocent pictures that are easily sent across the web. It's called W32/Perrun, and it requires an external executable file to do its dirty work.

Up until now, viruses have existed as files that have had their extensions simply changed from .exe to .jpg, and when the files were opened by graphics programs, no actual picture exists, and the user can easily dispose of the file. Not so with this latest development: the virus code itself is distributed throughout the real picture data within these files. You can even open the JPEGs with your browser and actually see the picture and the errors in the picture that this virus data causes. The code appears as streaks in the image, and simply sit in the file waiting to be exploited.

Currently, there are no real world examples of this new threat. The various writers of these tainted graphic viruses have been cooperating with the anti-virus companies so that they can develop antidotes to them.

What could this mean to your station or record company? You deal in pictures and sounds: shots of your air talent at remotes, sent in by listeners; clips from your artists available for download; not to mention those video and audio remixing contests you hold with fans. All of those data files flying across the net, uploaded and displayed on web sites, or available for download are now opportunities to put your audience in danger. All it takes is one ticked off listener or fan who has a tech background, and you could be in deep trouble.

You can protect yourself by making sure that you stay on top of this story and keep your anti virus software updated. Don't rely on a weekly auto update: a virus released on Monday is going to be a threat for 4 days before your regularly scheduled Friday update.

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