Melissa virus halted on campus
Systems never completely secure from infection, network administrator warns

by Sally Claunch

Special to The Shorthorn

Even though the attempt to flood the university e-mail systems with the Melissa virus was thwarted, an Academic Computing Services official said no computer is ever completely safe from viruses. "Viruses typically will only impact your own machine, but Melissa impacts mail servers," said Rami Zureick, Windows NT administrator for said. "Viruses similar to Melissa could mail materials to people you don't even know." Zureick said although the university's computer system's anti-virus programs are frequently updated and should be protected from viruses, no protection can be absolute. This threat poses a problem to university students and faculty alike, he added. Many trial versions of anti-virus programs, such as McAfee or Norton Anti-Virus, are on the Internet where users can download them for free. The Maverick Computer Center also has the full versions of the Norton Anti-Virus and McAfee Virex Scan virus protection software which are available to students and cost between $5 and $35. Both virus protection programs are Mac and PC compatible. The center's hours are 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Thursday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday. Zureick said such software should protect against current attacks, but that it is important to update any anti-virus program often. He also said that users should always be cautious when opening e-mail, because new viruses are being written and sent through e-mail all the time. Sean Skinner, Academic Computer Services computer user service specialist, said students may also access the university's Web site at http://microsys.uta.edu and then click on "UTA Virus Prevention." For more information on the Melissa virus, users should go to http://www.vert.org/advisories/CA-99-04Melissa-Macro-Cirus.html. Variants of the Melissa virus have been spreading through the Internet. Virus writers find the virus, create variations, and redistribute it, according to reports by The Associated Press. The virus crashes computer servers by reading a users' e-mail address book and sending out messages to the first 50 addresses on the list. The bulk of e-mail messages clogs servers because of the huge amount of mail. There are many variations of this virus. One variation, Melissa A, infiltrates a computer through e-mail, but instead of sending the message "Important Message from..." in the subject field, that field is blank in an attempt to foil electronic filters that detect and neutralize a virus-bearing message. Another variation, called "Papa," is sent as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and sends out 60 e-mails. This virus, however, has bugs that prevent it from working all the time. Because "Papa" is on the Internet, it is possible that another virus writer will fix the bugs and redistribute it. In order to keep the virus from wreaking havoc within the university mail-handling system, Zureick took the address book off-line until all of the attachments could be scanned for viruses. Zureick was able to put the address book back on-line Monday. "We found a few other viruses in the system that we didn't know about and were able to get rid of most of them," he said. David L Smith, the creator of the Melissa virus, was arrested last week after he was tracked down by a computer task force comprised of Federal and State Agents with the help of America Online technicians. The task force was able to track the virus to a phone line in Smith's apartment. Smith took a virus created by a virus writer known as VicodinES, and combined it with another virus and came up with Melissa. VicodinES, which is also the name of a narcotic, is well-known to a group of virus writers who chat online on the "Virus Exchange Underground." Smith is currently awaiting trial, and is out on $100,000 bail. —The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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