Staying a Step Ahead of Computer Viruses

Staying a Step Ahead of Computer Viruses

The arrival of a new academic year is busy enough for Boston College Information Technology Services administrators, who must assist new students in getting their computers, telephones and software set up and connected to the University's network.

But their job got only tougher when a computer virus struck, slowing mail servers and nearly halting e-mail communication on campus.

The virus, one of two that hit the Internet in August, invaded a user's email address book and sent an infected message to each address. The unsuspecting receiver would open the message, assuming an email from an acquaintance was important, not "spam" or junk e-mail.

"While on vacation I checked my email and found that I had about 800 messages, so I knew something was wrong," recalled ITS Director of Policy/Security David Escalante.

Although the virus expired on Sept. 10, IT administrators have been hard at work upgrading the processing power of mail servers, adjusting server anti-virus software and working with application vendors to install security patches.

Administrators say individual BC computer users can, and should, do their part to protect their computers while helping to provide a safe computing environment for the rest of the University.

"The most important thing that someone can do is to make sure they have anti-virus software and that it's running properly," said Escalante.

He recommends that experienced users pay careful attention to updating their anti-virus software so that it loads updates on a daily basis. Inexperienced users should contact their technology consultant for details.

Although ITS works to protect users from e-mail viruses at the server level, Escalante said there is often a lag time between the onset of a new virus and the development of new industry patches for the e-mail server, making it imperative for users to update the security settings on their machines.

"We're not out of the woods, so it's important that we keep updating to stay ahead of the viruses," said Escalante. He said that in the past some machines have been unnecessarily infected because known security flaws were exploited despite the availability of a patch.

Anti-virus software updates are made available at least once per month. All Desktop 2003 computers for faculty and staff were delivered with virus protection set to auto-update.

Escalante said that because there are fewer Apple machines they are less susceptible to viruses written for Windows. The new Mac OSX operating system, however, uses technology from the UNIX operating system and, if certain settings are turned on, viruses could attack the machine.

"If we can simply keep an eye out for the right things it will go along way to keeping us virus-free," he said.

For detailed information about virus protection, updates, downloads, and advice, go to

-Stephen Gawlik


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