Computers at risk after latest virus infections

Most destructive computer code yet seen has made its way into this country

The Examiner, Wednesday, December 9th, 1998

Computers across the country are at risk of crashing after a virulent electronic virus infected several PCs in Ireland’s Information Age town, Ennis.

The computer code has been described as “the most lethal and destructive ever” and has contaminated as many as 20 personal computers in Ennis and at a school in North Clare. Experts have warned that the virus, which is usually transmitted by electronic mail (e-mail) or floppy disc, lies dormant in the system until it is triggered.

The trigger for this fatal WIN95.CIH virus is the 26th day of any month. Although not a new virus, it had been thought up until now that CIH or “space filler” had been kept at bay since it originated in Taiwan in June of this year.

“Software cannot damage (well-designed) hardware,” according to British computer expert Nick Fitzgerald. “About the worst payload that most people imagined was a complete hard drive reformat. This was the naive view. Fortunately, it was also what we saw in ‘everyday’ viruses. The afternoon of 25th June, 1998, changed our view of things,” he said. Although as many as twenty PC users in Ennis have been affected it is unlikely that many more will suffer the same fate. The biggest concern now is that the virus could make its way into office’s and company’s with disastrous consequences. it is also possible that computer’s have been infected but not yet affected.

The 3,500 computer’s distributed in Ennis, as part of Telecom Eireann’s Information Age project, contain anti-virus software, but it is recommended that all user’s fill in the card which they received with their computer and send away for the anti-virus update.

Up until last night, Ennis’ Information Age office had received no complaints about the virus, however, at least two computer stores in the town have had several people calling with problems. Michael Byrne, Chief Executive of Ennis Information Town project, described the problem as a “serious issue” and warned people about accepting and opening e-mail attachments from unknown sources.

Telecom Eireann and the Information Age Town have ensured that each PC they have distributed is equipped with anti-virus software, but Michael Byrne warned that it is the responsibility of individuals to update their virus detection programme regularly. “This is particularly important if people insist on opening e-mail attachments received from unknown sources,” he said.

According to Andy Tierney of Tierney’s Office Automation, “people won’t know until it is too late that the virus exists on their system. There are no real symptoms of the problem, but a computer could experience difficulties booting (starting up),” he said.

The CIH virus, of which there are four known variations, is not known to have caused any major problems in other parts of the country but this could be because the symptoms are not as obvious as with other viruses.

The virus has disabled anti-virus software in all the affected computers in the Ennis area, leaving the PCs with no anti-virus protection. “It us important for people to update their anti-virus software regularly as between 400 and 500 new viruses turn up every month,” according to Mr. Tierney.

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