Wikipedia Used to Spread Virus

The open nature of online encyclopedia Wikipedia in which anyone can submit and edit articles is what has made the service a staple of the Internet. However, that same openness was used on Friday to hijack an entry and trick users into downloading a virus.

The German edition of Wikipedia was used as the vehicle to convince users to install what they thought was a "fix" for a new variant of the Blaster worm, which affected over 50,000 Windows computers in the summer of 2003. The attackers then sent out a German-language e-mail purporting to be from Wikipedia that told users to visit the page.

Almost immediately, Wikipedia and its active userbase took quick steps to remove the hijacked pages. However, previous versions of the page could still be accessed directly before they were removed by administrators as well.

"The good news is that the authorities at Wikipedia quickly identitifed and edited the article on their site," remarked Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for security vendor Sophos. "Unfortunately, however, the previous version of the page was still present in the archive and was continuing to point to malicious code. The hackers were thus able to send out spam pointing people to the page on Wikipedia, and try and lead them into infection."

Wikipedia has been often criticized for containing potentially misleading information due to its open architecture and self-policiing. Politicians have used it to edit their backgrounds and even vandalize opponents' entries. But until now, the service has never been used to in an attempt to actively spread a virus.

"Everyone should exercise caution and ensure they have appropriate defenses in place to protect their computer systems," added Cluley. "Additionally, people should remember that if there really is a new threat on the internet, you're likely to hear about it first from the security companies, not an online encyclopedia."

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