Memory Card Infected

September 30, 2007

For our trip to Germany, Sibylle and I discussed at length whether or not to take a laptop computer with us. We were concerned about weight, space, and possible theft or damage. In the end we decided to go without a computer and trust to finding an Internet cafe for our needs.

We were very successful in finding and using an Internet cage in Winnenden. Almost every day we would stop in to catch up on email and upload pictures to our respective Flickr accounts. In order to be able to remove pictures from the cameras' memory cards I brought a portable 40 GB USB drive in my bag, and the memory card readers for our two cameras.

Transferring pictures from the memory cards to the hard rive worked very well the first couple of times we tried it. Then one day I got a Windows Explorer window showing the file structure on the memory card rather than the usual Camera and Scanner wizard. I tried several times to get the wizard to start to no avail. Now, after returning home I know why.

Our cards had become infected with a virus. One of the machines in the cafe didn't have a working firewall and was infected with a variety of viruses, it seems. Both of our cards, when plugged into our home machines, triggered an immediate virus quarantine. Both Norton (Sibylle's computer) and Zone Alarm (my laptop) recognized three different viruses on our cards. Even after the cards were cleared of the viruses the picture copying wizard wouldn't activate. Sibylle was able to recover her pictures using her camera rather than the card reader as the input device to the computer. I plugged my card reading into the Powerbook (Mac OS X) and was able to import all the pictures there. Windows viruses simply aren't a problem for Macs.

Until today I had no idea that a camera memory card (and I suppose a PDA card or cell phone card) could be infected with a virus. It makes sense however, to the operating system it's just another removable storage device.

Our cards have been cleaned and medicated. Next vacation we're taking a laptop with us.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.