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Spam & Viruses

Berkeley Parents Network > Help & Frequently Asked Questions > Spam & Viruses

The Parents Network sent me a virus

The BPN has never mailed out viruses, worms, etc. to its subscribers. Nearly all of the viruses that are currently in the wild can only live on PCs running MS Windows. BPN does not run on a Windows computer.

Viruses and worms can't get through to the BPN list because all incoming BPN mail is screened for viruses by server software at UC Berkeley.

If you got a virus-laden email that seems to come from BPN, you probably received an email with a spoofed "From" address. Viruses and worms usually forge "From" and "To" addresses on mail they send out. You should always assume that a virus-laden email is not coming from whomever it claims to be coming from.

We do sometimes get notifications from BPN subscribers' email systems saying that a newsletter has been identified as junk mail and will not be delivered to the subscriber. Some email services do this quite regularly, and BPN subscribers sometimes set up spam filters themselves that block BPN newsletters. Please see Junk mail and spam filter settings for more info about this.

An email went out to the mailing list that says BPN sent somebody a virus

We saw this happen a few times in 2005, but have not seen it in the years since. Here's what happened: a virus used the BPN address as a spoofed "From" on virus-laden emails. Someone's mailer responded back to the fake sender (BPN) with an auto-generated "we removed a virus from your email" notice. Of course we didn't actually send them the virus-laden mail. Most mail systems are smart enough to know about spoofed addresses. However the not-so-smart mail programs will reply back to whatever address appears as the sender. If that address is the one for the mailing list, then everybody on the list gets the notification about the virus we supposedly sent. It's irritating but it is not harmful. The best thing to do is just delete it.

How did a virus get the address of the mailing list?

The virus got our address out of the mailbox of a BPN subscriber whose computer is infected. The actual address of the mailing list is concealed so that you will not see it on the newsletters you receive. However, once they infect a computer, viruses are smart about really scouring for addresses. They will gather any email addresses they can find in the infected computer's mail folders, in address books, and anywhere else on the disk of the infected computer, including concealed addressed for mailing lists, addresses that got a "blind carbon copy", and addresses that appear in the body of the email, or in other files on the computer. The virus uses these addresses not only to send new viruses to, but also to use as fake Senders on the emails they send out. Although a virus cannot send infected mail to our mailing list for the reasons explained above, it can use our address as a forged Sender on infected mail it sends to others.

Spammers and viruses are getting my email address from the BPN

No one has access to the subscriber list for the BPN mailing list, so it not possible that spammers or viruses will get your address just by virtue of you being on the list.

When your email address appears on a posting in one of the BPN newsletters, though, such as the Childcare newsletter, it is available to other BPN subscribers. We have never seen a case where a BPN subscriber was collecting addresses to send viruses to. BPN has been around since 1993. Still, we want people to be aware that this is a possibility.

If a BPN subscriber's computer gets infected with a virus, and your email address appears somewhere in a newsletter that is sitting in their mailbox, then there is a risk that a virus could obtain your email address. This is the same risk that you run anytime you send an email to anyone, or when anyone sends you an email. The only way to completely eliminate this risk is to stop using email. For most people, this would be a cure that's worse than the disease. And even this extreme measure will not protect you from viruses that download themselves when you view an infected website. You'd have to stop using the internet altogether. However, in recent years (since 2006) we have seen a dramatic decline in complaints about this happening.

As for spam, the most likely place that spammers get email addresses is from public websites. Some of the postings that appear in the BPN newsletters are archived to our website, which is public. However, if we archive your posting to the website, and you had included your email address in the posting, then we will remove your email address first, as well as your last name and phone number if you included them in your post. In some cases, we do include email addresses on the website for some types of postings such as announcements from tutors, but we add spaces and text so the email addresses are harder to harvest automatically by spammers. Occasionally we overlook an email address when we are archiving, so please let us know at once if you see a complete email address on the website!

Isn't it risky to be on a mailing list with so many subscribers who can potentially get infected?

If you include your email address on a posting in the BPN newsletter, your address will then appear in the body of an email that is distributed to a large number of mailboxes. In theory, the more people there are on the list, the greater the chance that one of them is infected by a virus that will grab your email address out of the newsletter.

In practice, you either have virus protection on your computer or you don't. If you don't have virus protection, then you are always at risk any time you send an email to anyone, and anytime anyone sends you an email, whether it's a newsletter from a big mailing list like the BPN, or work-related mail from your boss, or a joke from your sister in Peoria. Viruses and spam are now just a given when you use email. Not only that, but there are viruses and worms that will download themselves via a web browser when you look at an infected website. The only way to truly reduce your risk is to make sure you are protected. See the next section.

How can I protect myself from viruses and spam?

1) Screen your incoming mail for viruses
Most email services are doing this now, at least for viruses, if not also for spam and junk mail. If you don't know whether your email is being screened, check with your technical people. Of course viruses are constantly mutating to try to outfox the filterign software, so new viruses might occasionally slip through. That's why you need to ...

2) Scan your computer for viruses
If your computer is a PC running Microsoft Windows, you should have virus detection software running daily, scanning every file for viruses. Viruses often come in to your computer via an attachment on an email, such as a Word document or a .exe file. But they can also enter undetected on an email from a friend or, under certain circumstances, even from a web page you looked at.
Your virus detection software should run nightly if you leave your computer running all the time. If you usually power it off after working, then virus detection software should run every time you start up or shut down.
Your virus detection software should automatically update itself with info about new viruses, and you should set it up to do this every day.

3) Avoid using the software that is most often attacked
Microsoft products are the ones that get attacked by viruses. Occasionally we hear about vulnerabilities in UNIX and Mac but these two operating systems are far less likely to have problems. If you are on a PC, don't use the following software if you have a choice!

4) Keep your Microsoft software updated for patches
Microsoft is constantly creating bug fixes and patches for vulnerabilities as they become aware of new problems. Many Windows computers, especially newer ones, will automatically obtain the patches and bug fixes from the Microsoft website and install them for you. If yours doesn't do this automatically, you should do it yourself on a regular basis. Go to the Microsoft website and look for "Windows Updates" or "Downloads". Or, click on the Start menu on your desktop and select Windows Update.

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this page was last updated: Aug 16, 2008

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