Wave of e-mail viruses infect campus



Andrea Wilson

The typical commotion of the University’s first week of classes was compounded by a swarm of e-mail viruses which attacked the inboxes of thousands of frustrated users.

Stephen Fugale, executive director for University Information Technologies, said the Klez virus is the most consistent offender. UNIT estimated that over a 24-hour period from Sunday to Monday, the Webmail system was flooded with a total of about 43,000 messages with Klez attached.

McAfee Security, an anti-virus software company, lists Klez as a low to medium threat in its online Virus Information Library. The website classifies the virus as part of a worm family that has the ability to spoof an e-mail address. Recipients, therefore, may be familiar with the name of the supposed sender.

UNIT Network Security Specialist Adam Goldstein explained that the virus accomplishes such spoofing by scanning an infected computer to harvest e-mail addresses from all of its files, including address books and documents.

UNIT is also battling a few other viruses, which are known as So Big, Nimda, Code Red and Bugbear.

Goldstein explained that the viruses proliferated over break for a number of reasons. Since the campus network automatically filters e-mail, outbreaks are less frequent while classes are in session. Many students may have accessed their e-mail from off-campus during the break, where their inboxes are not shielded from infected messages. Also, students may have increased off-campus correspondence, adding to the threat.

The number of infected e-mails has been significantly reduced over the past few days by UNIT’s filtering strategy, and they hope the number will continue to diminish as new tactics are implemented. Among these new defenses may be a more comprehensive filtering approach.

“We currently filter mail coming in from outside the University, and right now we are looking at a series of ways to filter mail within the University,” said Fugale.

Goldstein listed some recommendations to help students protect their computers from infection, including updating anti-virus software constantly.

Most types of software are designed to automatically update themselves, but students should verify this feature is enabled on their computers.

Students should also look carefully at the sender and subject line of their messages before opening them, and they should be especially cautious with unexpected attachments.

“Be overly suspicious,” advised Goldstein, who explained that viruses often have subjects with unusual language and sometimes hide themselves by using file extensions such as .exe, .fcr, and .bat.

Also, applications that open messages automatically can increase a computer’s vulnerability. Goldstein said students who use older versions of Microsoft Outlook should check the Microsoft website for a downloadable patch to correct this problem.

Sophomore Annalise Regan’s computer was infected with a virus as a result of Outlook opening her e-mail. As a result, she had to reformat her computer and lost all of her documents.

On Wednesday, UNIT sent a virus alert to the entire University and provided a downloadable tool to scan and clean computers.

Students reported numerous mysterious messages that may have contained viruses, including those with subjects MommaCawn, Love.n, abuse, goldfish, 50 THINGS SHE WISHES and several others.

“I have been receiving a few of these messages a day, and every time I open my e-mail I worry that I’m going to get a virus,” said sophomore Christine Wisniewski.

The messages were an annoyance to most students, but some were not affected.

“I heard people talking about the viruses, but I didn’t receive any,” said sophomore Lisa Maiale.

Fugale said University website problems experienced over the past week were not related to viruses, but rather were a result of increased volume, which often occurs at the start of a semester.