When viruses attack

Oct. 14, 2003, midnight | By Danielle Foster | 20 years, 1 month ago

Viruses cause computers to crash worldwide

A few days before the first day of school, junior Connie Sinclair is almost finished with her paper. Music playing, Internet explorer connected, she has just a few more things to do until she is finished. Suddenly a message pops up and she is faced with a race against the clock. A program unexpectedly failed on her computer and she has 60 seconds to close all programs or the computer will shut down.

A virus had attacked Sinclair's computer. She was just one of the many victims of viruses that prey on major glitches in Microsoft software. Peter Hammond, a user support technician at Blair says, "Most viruses focus on Microsoft and Microsoft e-mail programs. They are set to attack the most common thing, which is Microsoft or Windows. The virus author generally wants to bring attention to themselves." Microsoft Windows desktop operating system owns a 95% market share, making them a prime target. In order to increase security, Microsoft has hired 8,500 engineers and spent $200 million strengthening security in the Windows 2003 server alone.

Up until now, viruses were meant to be mere nuisances. Of the approximately 80 new viruses created each month, most have little destructive effect. Today, however, virus writers are becoming more experienced, making it easier than ever to create the computer bugs.

The recent onslaught of computer viruses, going back to the beginning of August is affecting computers worldwide. On the eleventh of August, the Blaster virus as well as several accompanying bugs attacked major corporations including the reservation and airport check-in systems in Air Canada. A little over a week later, the SoBig virus caused delays with the CSX corporation freight transportation system. Over 3,000 computers were shut down in Fort Worth, Texas. SoBig was designed to overload a computer through the amount of e-mail it created. Of all the e-mails sent worldwide, one in fifteen were generated by the virus.

Blair's computers do have up to date virus protection. "[Montgomery] County has a firewall set up," Hammond explains. "Most of the recent viruses were e-mail based and those were blocked. Additionally, Macintoshes are very rarely affected by the viruses."

In order to fix her computer, Sinclair had to sign onto the Internet and download a patch from Microsoft's website. Logging onto the Internet was what activated the virus pop-up message and it shut down the computer. Consequently, Sinclair had to download the patch that would fix her computer in 60-second increments. Eventually she was able to get the patch, which would repair her computer.

The Basics

There are several types of viruses according to Symantec, a corporation that creates anti-virus software. They define the basic virus as "a piece of software code designed to invade computers and networks through e-mail or Internet connections and attach to files or programs of the hard drive, replicating itself." Once a virus is successfully loaded onto a computer, it will re-create itself and spread through the PC.

Not all viruses wreak absolute havoc on your computer. "Some are very harmless. If you remember the cookie monster virus, it didn't do much of anything else except pop-up," says Hammond. There are viruses that can do much more than be a nuisance, however. "Some are smart enough to reformat your hard drive. Viruses can do nasty things like erase files. Networks are particularly vulnerable," Hammond continues.

To protect yourself from viruses, avoid opening e-mails from unknown senders. E-mails you aren't expecting with general subjects like "thank you" or "my details" should probably be deleted. The Symantec Corporation also recommends home PC's to have current anti-virus software. A lot of the virus protection software is available online but you have to take the initiative to download updated versions. Make backups of all software so you will be able to repair your computer and avoid sharing floppy disks between many computers.

Visit the Symantec website for more information on viruses and virus protection.

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Danielle Foster. Danielle is a senior and all she can say is "it's about time". Now 17, driving, and close to completing the Communication Arts Program, she is ready to graduate on June second. This is her last year at Blair though, and she plans to make … More »

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