Virus puts computer data at risk

By Matt Michalek

For most historians, Friday marks the 517th birthday of Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo Bounnaroti. But to computer users across the country, Friday could be the day years of data gets wiped out.

A computer virus nicknamed “Michelangelo” is scheduled to activate itself Friday and wipe out the hard drive of any infected computer using the MS-DOS operating system.

Charles Rutstein, staff researcher at the National Computer Security Association (NCSA) and author of The Executive Guide to Computer Viruses, said the virus, which originated during the spring of 1991 in Sweden, infects the boot sectors of floppy disks and the master boot records of hard disks.

Every time an infected disk is used in a computer, the virus will copy itself onto the memory of the computer’s hard disk, he said.

Michael Prais, Academic Computing Services director, said the virus is transmitted from computer to computer by infected floppy disks.

“Suppose you have an infected program on a disk,” he said. “Every time that program is run on any computer, the virus spreads through the computer, copying itself onto another program in the hard drive.”

Agent Bob Long, spokesman for the Chicago FBI office, said the FBI is monitoring the situation.

“We are investigating if there are any violations of federal statutes involved,” he said.

At the very least, Long said, the virus constitutes a violation of local laws for destruction of property.

If the virus does violate federal statutes on computer crime, which cover actions that cause computer network data to be altered, stolen or destroyed, the FBI will start an investigation, he said.

John Tuecke, NIU associate vice president for systems and computing, said the virus already has been detected in the Stevenson Towers computer lab.

Students who used the lab had used a disk with infected programs on it. The virus then transmitted itself to the computers in the lab, Prais said.

All the computer labs on campus use virus detection programs, so no damage was done, he said.

“The anti-virus programs detected the virus trying to copy itself onto the hard drives of the Stevenson lab computers. It then locked up the entire system to prevent this from happening,” Prais said.

Students definitely should be worried about the safety of their own personal computers, he said.

The best way to protect yourself from the virus is to get an anti-virus program, Rutstein said.

The students who are most at risk are people who use computer bulletin boards. The programs downloaded from a bulletin board have a high probability of being infected, Prais said.

The NCSA bulletin board service has two shareware anti-virus programs available for downloading, ScanClean from McAfee Associates and F-Prot form Frisk Software. The anti-virus software used by NIU is F-Prot.

The NCSA bulletin board can be reached at (202) 364-8252, using the settings, 8 word bits, 1 stop bits and no parity.

“Overall, recent publicity on the Michelangelo virus has heightened public awareness about computer viruses, and their potential for damage,” Long said. “We caution people to use appropriate security measures when using their computers.”