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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Silent virus plagues PC users

    A serious computer virus that has infected millions worldwide has taken a stab at the UA, but security officials are working to combat the virus and educate the university community on how to protect themselves.

    Kelley Bogart, UA senior information security specialist, said the virus, called Conficker or Downadup, originally started by spreading through unpatched computers, and due to its inconspicuousness, she said there is a possibility it could be laying undetected on any university computer.

    The few instances where the virus was found on UA workstations were caught early and eliminated, Bogart said.

    Most people are unaware when Conficker infects their computers, because the symptoms are relatively unnoticeable compared to other viruses, Bogart said.

    The virus will shut off the computer’s security measures, inhibiting users from being able to contact security websites. The virus also disables the computer’s antivirus software, she said.

    Conficker targets Microsoft Windows, making PC and Windows-based Macintosh computers vulnerable, said Ryan Tomkus, daytime supervisor for the university’s 24/7 IT Support Center.

    Once Conficker has infected a computer, it spreads in several ways. If the computer is connected to a network, the virus will scan that network, searching for other computers that display the same vulnerability.

    The virus could also gain access to computers by guessing their passwords or by copying itself onto any device that is inserted into the computer’s USB port.

    The computer has no chance to scan the USB for possible viruses and Conficker is executed on the computer, Bogart said.

    “”For the average user, you’re not going to know that you’re compromised,”” she said.

    While it is not yet known why the virus was created, Bogart said virus engineers often have the same set of motives.

    It’s possible that the virus’ creators are building “”an army of computers that will be at their disposal to do what they want, when they want,”” she said. “”[Infected devices] could launch an attack on another major system, something to bring down infrastructure. What they’re doing is building these zombie-computers.””

    Microsoft issued a software update in October to protect computers from the Conficker virus, Tomkus said.

    Unfortunately, Microsoft users often choose not to run the updates when they are presented on the computer, meaning that the computer is still vulnerable to viruses, Tomkus said.

    James Carpenter, an English and Chinese junior, said that he sometimes puts off installing updates on his computer because he simply does not have the time.

    “”I think that definitely hinders people’s response time [to viruses],”” he said.

    Engineering senior Mark Jankasi said updates can also be extremely annoying and “”chances are probably pretty slim”” that he updates his computer immediately when prompted.

    Students should take several necessary steps in order to protect their computer from Conficker, Bogart said.

    Operating systems should be updated regularly and the computers should be rebooted following the update process. The patch isn’t technically applied until the computer is rebooted, something that Bogart said most people fail to do.

    Students should also have antivirus software on their computer and update it regularly, she said.

    Those students who don’t currently have antivirus software can download Sophos, an antivirus system available to the campus community, Tomkus said.

    “”As students of the university, they have access to Sophos for free,”” he said.

    The UA’s Information Security Office recommends that people also create strong passwords on their computers that are difficult for the virus to guess.

    Tomkus said students shouldn’t worry about the virus if proper measures are taken.

    “”People who take those measures should not only be able to avoid this virus but also those in the future,”” he said.

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