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Exchanging electronic Valentine's cards and downloading romance-themed programs from the Internet increases the risk of spreading viruses.

So says Sophos which we applaud for its initiative in unearthing the antivirus angle in February 14.

The AV vendor cautions users to be vigilant because disguising worms as greetings card has become a popular ploy for virus writers.

The recently discovered San VBS worm attempts to tempt users into visiting a Web site harbouring malicious code using a Valentine's Day message, written in Spanish. Another worm, Zacker-C, attempted to pass off a malicious attachment as a New Year greeting card.

There are several other examples, including the infamous Love Bug (aka ILOVEYOU) and Melissa-B viruses, which show that the warning is not misplaced.

According to Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos Anti-Virus, administrators should consider blocking files with double extensions, executable or VBS attachment at the corporate gateway. Users can play their part by practising 'safe computing' (for example not opening suspect attachments and being wary of visiting suspicious Web sites), he adds.

Email lovers can check out Valentine's United, a new anonymous email service which features a 'reply' option.

A spokeswoman for 192.com, the firm behind the service, said it was taking security seriously, for example by allowing recipients to block further messages from undesirable suitors. Valentine's United omits the facility to embed attachments in messages or add hyperlinks. There's numerous ways of sending anonymous emails through sites that don't have these security constraints in place, so we don't think Vx crews will be flocking to the site.

But is the service a poor excuse for real romantic gestures? Not so, says Valentine's United.

"The service is a fun way of building up rapport and getting to know someone. You can follow up with those lovely chocolates or flowers later," the company gushes. ®

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