Archive for Tuesday, April 27, 1999

VIRUS WREAKS LITTLE HAVOC

April 27, 1999

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The "Chernobyl" virus failed to create the widespread computer havoc it was designed to wreak.

When Sylvia Land showed up for work Monday at Micom Computer Systems Inc., she found on her doorstep a victim of Chernobyl.

The man was not a survivor of the Russian nuclear power plant disaster, but a computer virus of the same name that had erased parts of his hard drive and destroyed his operating system.

"There's no operating system. It won't boot up. The screen is black," Land summarized.

It was not a good way to start the day for that man. And Micom, 947 E. 23rd, got a few more calls Monday from other people who had run-ins with the virus that affected Windows 95- and Windows 98-enabled computers through downloaded programs.

But for the most part, the widescale meltdown that could have happened didn't, in Lawrence or nationally.

Lawrence computer repair and service companies including Geeks on Wheels, Computer Renaissance and Central Data Computer Systems reported no calls on the virus.

Computer users can thank an early warning.

"People who keep up with it have been aware of it since last summer," said Mickey Waxman, programmer with Kansas University's academic computer services department.

Most anti-virus computer programs created since then have been capable of disabling Chernobyl.

Virus-infected machines that weren't protected generally required at least the reformatting of the hard drive at a cost of about $150, Land said.

Though particularly destructive, the Chernobyl virus is by no means unique, Land said.

Viruses are being created on a daily basis, meaning anti-virus programs also must be continually updated, she said.

"They are writing them faster than we can keep up," Land said.

The Chernobyl virus came on the heels of "Melissa," a virus that was spread widely through e-mail.

Waxman said in his computer work at KU he scans for about 15,000 different viruses.

While many viruses may just do something silly like display a message on the screen, some, like Chernobyl, can do serious damage.

Unfortunately, another version of Chernobyl is set to go off in June.

"We've got this to look forward to again on June 26," Land said.

-- Kendrick Blackwood's phone message number is 832-7221. His e-mail address is kblackwood@ljworld.com.

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