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Popular photo frames carry risk of infection

Popular photo frames carry risk of infection
Popular photo frames carry risk of infection 

By Deborah Gage
Chronicle Staff Writer
January 2, 2009

Digital photo frames were one of the best-selling consumer electronics 
products this holiday season, but some of them carried a nasty surprise
- malicious software code that tried to hop onto personal computers when 
the frames were plugged in.

These popular devices are now so powerful that they've become computers 
in themselves, although people who buy them don't always realize that. 
And like computers, the frames are capable of carrying code that logs 
keystrokes, steals data and calls out to other malicious code once it's 
installed itself on a PC.

"Users don't realize that bad guys can make use of each and every 
computer they can control, even if you don't do Internet banking or have 
any sensitive information," said Karel Obluk, the chief technology 
officer of AVG, a security vendor with offices in the United States and 
Europe. "They can profit by spam or other illegal activities and make 
(your) PC part of an illegal network. It's something that users should 
always be reminded of."

No one knows how many infected digital photo frames are out there. But 
the Consumer Electronics Association estimated that 7.4 million such 
frames were sold in 2008 - up 41 percent from 2007 - and projected that 
sales would jump again this year by 33 percent to more than 9.8 million 

Among the frames reported to be infected this holiday season were a 
Samsung 8-inch frame sold by, an Element 9-inch frame sold by 
Circuit City and a Mercury 1.5-inch frame sold by Wal-Mart. has e-mailed warnings to its customers about the Samsung 
frame, but a Circuit City spokesman said the retailer wasn't aware of 
any infections. After being contacted by The Chronicle, a Wal-Mart 
spokeswoman said the company would remove the Mercury frames from its 
Web site.

In 2007, Sam's Club - owned by Wal-Mart - also sold infected frames over 
the holidays, according to customers who bought them, as did Best Buy, 
Target and Costco.

American consumers shopped hard for bargains this year, and digital 
photo frames have been good deals. Wholesale prices continue to drop - 
Wal-Mart has been selling the Mercury frame, which comes embedded in a 
key chain, for $24.

But the infected frames also show how risky it is to live with a global 
supply chain where the cost of buying products at the lowest price means 
those products can vary widely in quality.


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