Virus hits 200 student computers

A damaging virus has infected hundreds of computers on the GW network, and administrators are asking students to surf the Web with caution.

More than 200 computers at GW have been infected since the virus was first detected on campus in August, said Alexa Kim, executive director of Information Systems and Services. ISS expects this number to rise sharply throughout the remainder of the fall semester, Kim said.

The virus is called a “storm” worm, because the word “storm” appears in the subject line of tainted e-mails. E-mails sent to users of the GW network contain applications that, when opened, release a Trojan virus onto the computer. These types of viruses put personal information and files at risk of being stolen.

The virus can also pass through instant messaging programs, peer-to-peer networking programs and Web sites.

“Any computer detected to be compromised is removed from the network in order to protect other users and to protect the user’s files and documents from further damage and theft,” Kim said. She added that since this virus is spread by the user’s activity, it is important to educate people about safe browsing.

“GW takes pro-active steps to prevent infections from spreading automatically, but the user is ultimately responsible for (his or her) online activity and should be vigilant in their daily browsing and electronic communication,” Kim said.

When a computer becomes infected with the virus, it joins a network of systems around the world that send the virus to other users in e-mail address books or instant messaging buddy lists. In the case of the storm worm, one computer can affect millions.

Computers flagged by the University must have their hard drives reformatted before they can rejoin the network. This requires all the data on the hard drive to be erased.

Of the 200 computers affected at GW, 105 were flagged as spreading the virus. Kim said 65 of those computers were infected by the storm worm.

Junior Zee Beyzaei said her computer was infected and removed from the network.

“They said I probably just got (the storm worm) through the network,” Beyzaei said. She added that she does not download music or perform risky downloads.

ISS sent an e-mail to the GW community on Oct. 5 alerting them to the problem and providing possible solutions.

Kim said users can avoid infection by enabling Microsoft’s “automatic updates” function, performing daily scans using anti-virus software and not clicking on any video or application file unless they are sure of the content.

She added video links embedded in e-mails, instant messages and blog posts have been the most frequent sources of the storm worm infection.

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