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Harry Potter worm claims death of teen wizard

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Hackers are attempting to exploit Potter-mania with the release of a worm that attempts to infect USB memory drives.

The Hairy-A worm poses as a file containing a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the eagerly-anticipated final novel in the Harry Potter series, due out on 21 July.

The infected file normally comes on infected USB drives. If users plug these drives into their Windows PCs they are liable to infect their machines, especially if they have allowed USB drives to "auto-run".

Infected drives contain a file called HarryPotter-TheDeathlyHallows.doc, a word document that contains nothing besides the phrase "Harry Potter is dead", instead of the hoped-for transcript. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the worm begins casting its malign spell. The worm looks for other removable drives to infect before creating a number of new users (Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley) that will be familiar names to fans of the JK Rowling books.

After logging in, users of infected machines will be confronted by the following message, which appears via a batch file:

read and repent

the end is near repent from your evil ways O Ye folks lest you burn in hell...JK Rowling especially

The worm also changes the Internet Explorer home page of compromised machines to an Amazon.com web page selling a parody book of the teenage wizard series entitled Harry Putter and the Chamber of Cheesecakes.

Anti-virus firm Sophos describes the malware as an "old school" virus written to cause mischief and to show off, rather than to rake in illicit funds. Security experts advise users to disable the auto-run facility of Windows so removable devices such as USB keys and CD ROMs do not automatically launch when they are attached to a PC. Removal media ought to be checked for malware before use in order to guard against the increased use of USB devices and the like as a vector for malware distribution.

The Hairy-A worm is far from the first time interest in the Harry Potter series has been exploited by cybercrooks.

In 2005, spammers tried to trick users into paying for a supposed advance copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince a few weeks before the release of the sixth book in the series. The year before, a virus posed as a copy of the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks.

Last month, a hacker claimed to have obtained a transcript of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows after compromising the PC of one or more workers at Bloomsbury Publishing, the publisher of the Harry Potter series. The claim was treated with skepticism both in the computer hacking underground and among Potter fans. ®

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