Big businesses and University students alike felt the firsthand effects of a virus-like computer worm this weekend.
Some viruses spread through e-mail attachments, but the worm that recently affected many computers around the world traveled through network connections without using e-mail as a transmitter. Businesses, governments and other users of the database software SQL were attacked by the worm through vulnerability in the software. Microsoft, the manufacturer, recognized the weakness and made a product update available in July, but many system administrators had not yet installed the update. The major effect of the worm was network congestion, which increased download times by an average of 50 percent and made some websites completely unavailable Saturday. Yesterday, the FBI said the origins of the worm were still unknown.
But Bruce Burrell, the director of Virus Busters, a University taskforce that handles viruses, said the worm, called “Slammer,” is unlikely to affect the campus community at large.
“Did it hit the University? Yes,” he said. “Did it hit students? For the most part, no. End user machines are much less likely to be at any risk than corporate user-type machines.”
Virus Busters is a special division of the Information Technology Central Services committed to virus protection for University network users. Burrell said Virus Busters serves two important functions.
The first is to combat e-mail hoaxes and shady virus threats, Burrell said. “An email hoax lives on forever, if you’re gullible enough,” he added. The Virus Busters’ website contains an information section entitled “Hoaxes, Hooey, and Hogwash,” which dispels many e-mail chain letters as scams and many virus threats as idle.
The second function of Virus Busters is to keep the University network virus-free. “My niche is computer viruses,” said Burrell, one of the original members of Virus Busters, which was started in 1988 – only two years after the discovery of the first computer virus.
While many students bring computers to school that already have protective software, such as Norton Anti-Virus, installed, Burrell said the University offers a top-of-the-line anti-virus program free of charge to all University affiliates that offers more protection than Norton.
VirusScan, the program recommended by Virus Busters, can be downloaded from their website.
In a study conducted by Virus Busters, four-month old VirusScan was compared to brand-new Norton software and the old VirusScan software still detected more viruses than Norton. “VirusScan checks for new viruses every hour,” Burrell said.
Students can also take precautions to avoid infecting their computer with a virus. “Never, ever open an unsolicited e-mail attachment, even if it’s from someone you know and trust,” Burrell said.
Burrell said Virus Busters does not limit its assistance to University students and staff. “I believe we have a mandate to educate whoever wants to be educated,” said Burrell, adding that students and staff should not hesitate to seek the help of his team.
“Virus Busters is 100 percent of my job,” he said, adding, “The only stupid question is the one that’s left unasked.”
– The Associated Press contributed to this article.