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Hang up on these Internet bugs

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 23/05) - Some Yellowknifers received a not-so-pleasant holiday surprise from the phone company last month: a bill laced with expensive calls to far-flung places - calls they never made.

Dial-up internet customers are facing phone bills hundreds of dollars higher than normal thanks to a nasty phenomenon known as modem-hijacking.

The problem starts with the click of a mouse. The virus behind the long-distance calls can be transferred to your computer when you access a website or download a music or video clip.

The bug becomes implanted on your drive and when your dial-up connects, it takes over your modem and makes long-distance calls.

"They (hackers) have full control over your computer," said Ryan Walker, a manager at SSI Micro, a Yellowknife-based internet provider and tech centre.

A manager with NorthwesTel said the corporation - a division of Bell Canada that serves 96 communities scattered throughout the North - had received multiple complaints about similar charges. The company did not, however, have precise numbers.

The problem, though, is not limited to NorthwesTel customers. Since dial-up internet took hold more than a decade ago, unscrupulous programmers have been pirating modems the world over.

But with cable and wireless connections making dial-up look molasses slow, most customers in Yellowknife have switched over. Walker estimates about 80 per cent of online capital-dwellers have high speed connections.

"It is a problem that is slowly disappearing," said Walker.

But the unpleasant matter of the inflated phone bill remains the customer's problem.

"Our general policy is that customers are responsible for their bill. That includes these types of calls," said Mark Walker, vice-president of customer solutions and services for NorthwesTel.

Walker said the company is looking into the problem.

Ryan Walker recommends outfitting your computer with virus protection software and a firewall - a program that keep hackers from getting inside your machine.

"At the end of the day, it's your computer," he said.