Virus hits Alaska computers

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A new computer virus has begun striking computers in Alaska and sending private documents to anyone found in the computer's address book.

The virus, known as W32.Sircam, infiltrates users' computers via an e-mail attachment. It was first reported July 16 and began striking computers in Fairbanks last Friday.

The virus appears as an e-mail message, often from a known individual. The subject line of the e-mail will be the same as the file name of an attachment within the message, a file ending with the extension .bat, .com, .lnk or .pif.

The text of the message begins with the line ''Hello! How are you?'' followed by a request for advice about the attached file and the final line ''See you later. Thanks.''

When the attachment is opened, the virus is unleashed on the unwitting hard drive and begins to propagate itself, sending e-mails containing copies of the virus to all the addresses in the user's address book, as well as e-mail accounts of recently visited Internet sites. The attachments in the e-mails will include personal documents.

Robert Callahan of the University of Alaska computer help desk called W32.Sircam the most troublesome such virus he had encountered in 18 months on the job.

''This seems to be about the worst because of the high propagation rate and what it does,'' he noted.

According to Callahan, the virus can render all software applications inoperable once the computer is restarted. UAF has been dealing with the virus on a case-by-case basis, telling infected users to immediately disconnect from the Internet until technicians can repair the damage.

W32.Sircam has emerged as a large-scale nuisance throughout the world, with the McAfee virus-monitoring site classifying it as high-risk and the Symantec rating it a 4 out of 5 in terms of severity. In addition to the e-mail attack, in some cases the virus can also delete files and directories or clog up the hard drive.

Virus protection updates can be obtained at the McAfee and Symantec home pages as well as other sites. Both sites also offer cures for the virus.

Luke Kreuzenstein, an e-mail administrator with the state of Alaska, said the severity of the virus can vary between computers and systems. ''In some users, it's mostly a nuisance, in others it's debilitating,'' he said.

Macintosh computers are immune.

According to Kreuzenstein, some computers on the state system had been infected, but it has not emerged as a serious problem.

Other Alaska institutions have reported varying degrees of infection. While UA Fairbanks has had to deal with numerous virus attacks, the University of Alaska statewide system has not had problems.



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