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ISSUE 117 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/19/2003

Computers hit by virus

By Jean Mullins
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 19, 2003

The Blaster worm virus, also known as "MSBlast" or "LovSan," infected the St. Olaf computer network one week before students began to arrive on campus this fall.

The virus, which some experts say affected up to 500,000 computers worldwide, replicates itself on an infected computer and passes the virus along to other computers on a network.

This virus causes so much traffic between computers passing the worm over a network that it can shut that network down. Other symptoms include computers shutting down, Microsoft Office programs that show error messages and suddenly shut down and copy and paste functions that do not work. The worm does not damage data or programs.

Informational and Instructional Technologies (IIT) computers caught the virus before first-year students started arriving on campus Aug. 29. John Campion, a Student Computing and Network Consultant with IIT, explained that catching the worm before students’ arrival gave IIT time to prepare.

"We were able to burn copies of the patch to give to first-year students as they arrived and -mail the patch program to the upper-classmen,"Campion said.

The patch works to prevent infection by "patching" a hole in the Microsoft programs Windows XP, Windows NT and Windows 2000. Macintosh computers and Windows ME, 95 and 98 are not susceptible to the Blaster worm virus.

The Microsoft Corporation admitted to the flaw in these Microsoft programs that allows computers on a network to talk to each other and pass programs.

"The Windows programs allow the computers to pass along programs without the user knowing," Campion said.

Therefore the flaw allows infected computers to pass the Blaster worm through the network. The Blaster worm does not come by e-mail or require the computer user to accept anything – the computer accepts the worm from an infected computer on its own. The patch program also fixes the worm if it detects it on the computer.

IIT workers first detected the virus on its own computers in mid-August and quickly worked to prevent the spread of the worm to other campus computers. IIT installed the patch on all other campus computers, such as those belonging to faculty and in the library. As students arrived, not only did IIT pass out the patch program on CDs, but all students logging on to the network were prompted with a message asking them to install the patch program over the network as well. This network prompt was St. Olaf’s first defense against the virus after it was discovered.

Campion also shut down the network as first year students arrived on campus to give the new students a chance to install the patch before their computers, if infected, could infect other computers over the network.

"Hopefully there will be no future infections, but there are other flaws in Microsoft’s programs that could potentially be exploited," Campion said.

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