Computer viruses infect GW

Computer viruses are becoming a more frequent problem for GW students, afflicting more computers than ever and constantly changing form, a University official said.

More than 16,000 different variations of computer viruses lurk in cyberspace, according to www.sophos.com. Despite the growing number of different viruses, students are not powerless, said Alexa Kim, director of Student Academic and Support Services Technology Communication.

It’s part of the general computing landscape, and it is manageable, Kim said.

When GW graduate student Ali Ayulo noticed the icons on his computer’s desktop were blank and blocked out, he had no idea what was wrong.

Ayulo had a friend look at his computer and discovered that a computer virus was the source of his frustration. The virus was promptly cured after Ayulo installed anit-virus software.

Viruses are becoming more frequent and more sophisticated. A new breed of viruses discovered last week is giving computer users even less security. Previously, viruses transported through e-mail could only affect a computer if the user downloaded an attachment with the corrupted message. The new e-mail virus called Bubbleboy, which is named after a Seinfeld episode, automatically infiltrates a computer when a user highlights or opens the message.

The virus plays on the habits of e-mail users, some students said.

I always open everything even if I am deleting it, freshman Courtney Meyer said.

While new viruses afflict more unsuspecting e-mail users than ever, it is more of an annoyance than a serious problem, Kim said.

According to recent studies, Bubbleboy changes the name of the person registered on the computer and causes irrelevant system error messages. The virus, like the Melissa virus, also automatically sends itself to the e-mail addresses in the recipient’s address book.

The virus only affects users of Microsoft Outlook 98, Outlook 2000 and Outlook Express that comes with Internet Explorer 5.0, Kim said.

It does not pose a huge problem, Kim said. She said most GW students use Pine or Webmail, which are not susceptible to the new virus.

Students who use one of the Microsoft programs can download the remedy, or patch, from a number of Web sites, including www.microsoft.com.

E-mail virus hoaxes pose a problem for students, Kim said. Students do not have to worry every time they receive e-mails entitled don’t open because most of these are hoaxes, she said.

They have been around since the beginning of e-mail, she said. They fall into the category of urban legends.

GW computer labs pose a danger to students using disks to transfer documents. Many different students use the same computer in labs, and viruses affecting document files are transferred from student to student, Kim said.

Ayulo said he believes his computer contracted a virus that originated in a University lab.

School computers are loaded with viruses, he said.

All University computers are equipped with anti-virus software, Kim said.

It’s a constant struggle, but we are very aware of it, she said.

Students can download the anti-virus software Sophos, which the University provides free of charge to clear their files of most viruses. If an infection does occur, virus software will usually pick it up, Kim said.

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