E-Mail Virus Hoax Causes Confusion

An e-mail hoax asking recipients to delete an “infected” system file has spread around campus this week.

Although the e-mail calls the file a virus, it is in fact a utility present on most computers with Microsoft Windows.

“If you find this file,” the e-mail warns, “DO NOT OPEN IT! Select by right clicking your mouse and DELETE it.”

According to the e-mail students are circulating, the “virus” was sent to people they had e-mailed in the past month.

The e-mail asks students to forward the warning to everyone they know, and says the virus cannot be detected by antivirus programs because it remains dormant in the hard drive.

Maggie J. Morgan ’04, who received the e-mail from one of her teaching fellows, said she took the e-mail very seriously.

“I don’t really know much about computers,” she said, “and I was afraid it could erase your hard drive in a month.”

Kevin S. Davis ’98, coordinator of residential computing for Harvard University Arts and Sciences Computing Services (HASCS) said that User Assistants have made several trips to students’ rooms to restore the deleted file, and said that e-mail hoaxes such as this one can overload mail servers.

The file, SULFNBK.EXE, is used to “restore long file names,” according to McAfee.com, an anti-virus website.

If the file is deleted, the computer will function normally but will not be able to display file names longer than eight characters, Davis said.

“It would be a nightmare trying to find out file names,” he said.

The file can be restored from backup with instructions that can be found on McAfee.com and other websites.

But Davis said HASCS does not plan to issue a warning about the hoax since circulation of the e-mail has died down.

“Students are much more circumspect this year than last year,” Davis said. He also said students should never forward an e-mail containing instructions to forward it widely.

“This is just another example of the fact that you have to check what you hear on e-mail,” said Olamipe I. Okunseinde ’04, publicity director of the Black Student Association, who sent the e-mail to all the organization’s members.

Davis did warn, however, that a dangerous virus called “goner” and its attached gone.exe file have appeared within the past two days.