|Systems never completely secure from infection, network
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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