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Latest virus spreads headaches across campus

February 19, 2001

It popped into e-mail boxes across campus Monday, Feb. 12 with the subject line "Here you have." Inside was a message, "Hi: Check This!" and an attachment labeled mysteriously "AnnaKournikova.jpg.vbs."

As those who opened the e-mail discovered, inside was not a message from Anna Kournikova but a virus--an insidious worm that entered their Windows directory and then sent itself to every address listed in their Microsoft Outlook address book.

The result? An overloading and subsequent crash of e-mail servers, not only at Austin Peay, but around the country and in Europe. In Nashville, the Metro Government system had to shut down its e-mail for the entire day. At Austin Peay, e-mail was down only 10 minutes.

Of course, it took longer than that to fix the problem. Computer Services found more than 36,000 cases of infection in its first sweep. For Matt Bennett, exchange administrator, and Matt Silva, assistant director of Computer Services, it meant two and a half days work--and they're still coming across infections resulting from e-mail lingering in campus computers.

Shutting down the e-mail system was the only hope of stopping the epidemic spread of the virus. "It would have kept replicating no telling how long if we hadn't shut down the e-mail," Bennett says. "It would have soon shut down our server."

Which was, it seems the ultimate purpose of the diabolical worm. "We stopped it at the server so those on campus wouldn't get hit again, but our server was flooded with e-mail messages," Bennett says. "This worm wasn't meant to damage computers but to overload the server."

Computer Services has received Norton's for Exchange Server to stop the virus at the server, but Bennett says if people still have it on their computers, it can relaunch on the campus e-mail system. He urges everyone to update their antiviral software--and to take precautions to avoid attacks by future viruses.

"If you receive a vbs attachment, assume it's a virus," he says. "No one on campus that I'm aware of uses visual basic script."

Bennett says you also should follow your mom's admonishment not to "talk" to strangers, and you should be especially cautious about strangers bearing "gifts."

"If you get e-mail from someone you usually don't get mail from and it has an attachment, it's best not to open it," he says.

The latest viral epidemic isn't likely to be the last, according to Bennett. Thousands of viruses are created on a daily basis."Anyone with a program can create a virus."

An aside: Why AnnaKournikova? It seems the 20-year-old Dutch man who claimed creation of the virus was a "big fan" of hers.

Computer Services, needless to say, is not.