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Tech Time Warp: No one is sending you pics of Anna Kournikova

Tech Time Warp: No one is sending you pics of Anna Kournikova

Tech Time Warp

Tech Time Warp

As your mother told you, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. And that’s as true today as it was 23 years ago when “OnTheFly,” a 20-year-old Dutch programmer/hacker, used a computer virus to proclaim his adoration for the Russian tennis star Anna Kournikova. This week’s edition of Tech Time Warp shares how overlooking the details of an attachment led to a fast-spreading virus.

On Feb. 11, 2001, users began receiving emails with the subject line “Here you have, :o),” the message “Hi: Check This!” and an attachment named “AnnaKournikova.jpg.vbs.” Overlooking the “.vbs,” users opened what they thought was a JPEG to instead find a Visual Basic worm. It was similar to 2000’s ILOVEYOU worm. It then in turn emailed itself to everyone in their Outlook address book. The virus also automatically connected the user’s computer to Dutch company Dynabyte’s website on Jan. 26 of each year. Only PCs were vulnerable. If users had installed the Microsoft security patch issued after the ILOVEYOU worm, their machines were not affected.

“OnTheFly” took credit for the quick-spreading virus in a post on a Dutch website. He took these actions “just because [he was] a big fan of hers. She deserves some attention, doesn’t she?” He also said he didn’t mean to harm those who received his attachment—but that it was their own fault they had been infected.

As news of the virus spread, “OnTheFly” became increasingly nervous. He ultimately turned himself in to authorities on Valentine’s Day in the northern Dutch town of Sneek. The Anna Kournikova virus had been created using a “script kiddie,” or a readily available toolkit for amateur programmers with ill intent. De Wit was sentenced to 150 community service hours or 75 days in jail.

Legacy of the virus

The Anna Kournikova virus lives on in pop culture, however. In a 2004 episode of Friends—“The One in Barbados, Part 1”—Chandler deletes Ross’ paleontology conference presentation after opening an email promising photos of Kournikova. The sitcom version of the virus instantly wiped Ross’ hard drive—and, interestingly enough, affected Macs. Ross wasn’t using a PC—he had a Powerbook G4.

Did you enjoy this installation of SmarterMSP’s Tech Time Warp? Check out others here.

Photo: TierneyMJ / Shutterstock

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