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It's time to add digital picture frames to the group of consumer products that could carry computer viruses and Trojan horse programs.

In the past month, at least three consumers have reported that photo frames - small flat-panel displays for displaying digital images - received over the holidays attempted to install malicious code on their computer systems, according to the Internet Storm Center, a network-threat monitoring group. Each case involved the same product and the same chain of stores, suggesting that the electronic systems were infected at the factory or somewhere during shipping, said Marcus Sachs, who volunteers as the director of the Internet Storm Center.

"When (the first incident) pops up, we thought it might be someone that was infected and blamed it on the digital picture frame," Sachs said. "But this is malware - and malware that does not seem to be very well detected. You could plug in a device and infect yourself with something that you would never know you had."

The incidents underscore that the proliferation of electronic devices with onboard memory means that consumers have to increasingly be aware of the danger of unwanted code hitching a ride. While many consumers are already wary of certain devices, such as digital music players, USB memory sticks and external hard drives, that include onboard memory, other types of electronics have largely escaped scrutiny.

In the past, consumer devices infected with malicious code have generally been the result of manufacturing mishaps. In October 2007, for example, hard-disk drive maker Seagate acknowledged that a password-stealing Trojan horse program had infected a number of its disk drives shipped from a factory in China after a computer at the manufacturing facility was infected. The Trojan horse would infect systems and attempt to steal the account credentials to Chinese online games as well as the popular World of Warcraft.

In another incident, a Windows computer virus snuck onto the hard drives of a limited number of Apple's iPods during manufacturing in 2006.

Going forward, infections may no longer always be accidental, said Sachs, who is also the executive director of government affairs at telecommunications provider Verizon.

"I think that supply-side attacks are going to go from zero to some small percentage," he said. "It is obviously not going to be as dangerous as mass mailing email infections, but you could have some really clever targeted attacks."

In the latest incidents, three photo frames made by Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based Advanced Design Systems, and bought from different Sam's Club stores, each contained a Trojan horse, according to reports to the SANS Internet Storm Center. The malicious code appears to act like a rootkit, hiding itself and disabling access to antivirus resources.

"It propagates to any connected device by copying a script, a com file and an autorun file," one consumer reported to the ISC. "It hides all systems files and itself while completely eliminating the user admin ability to show hidden files. It creates processes that negate any attempt to go to anti virus and anti spam web sites. It prevents the remote installation of any antivirus components."

Advanced Design Systems did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent by email and left on its voicemail system on Tuesday. A media representative of Wal-Mart, which owns the Sam's Club discount warehouse chain, could not comment on the issue when contacted Monday and did not provide a comment in time for publication.

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