Awareness, Action Limit Virus Damage

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Preparation and public awareness helped the University survive a potentially destructive computer virus earlier this month with minimal problems, according to Information Processing Support.

IPS Personal Computing Systems Manager Jeanne Spellman said that only four computers were incapacitated by the so-called "MDMA virus" when it struck Nov. 1. Two departments also reported on Oct. 31 that a majority of their computers were infected with the virus, Spellman said, but were able to take preventive action.

The virus - which affects Macintosh or personal computers using the Microsoft Word 6.0 application or its more recent versions - deletes system files or the entire hard drive of the infected computer on the first day of each month, making the computer impossible to start. It had damaged several administrative computers on Oct. 1, and was reported or observed frequently by a number of users.

Spellman said IPS sought to reduce the MDMA threat by sending e-mail warnings to University offices, making virus protection software available on disks and the IPS World Wide Web site, and adding extra staff to the IPS Help Center.

A Boston College News Service announcement on the InfoEagle home page also helped build public awareness of the virus, she said, noting that the bulletin had been accessed over 660 times in a day. About 750 people accessed the Web site to download the software, she said, and another 70 obtained protection disks at the Help Center.

"This was a terrific response from the BC community," Spellman said. "We had originally estimated that over 1,000 administrative computers were at risk from the virus, and we expected about 30 computers to be severely affected. But people were very attentive to the situation and reacted very well."

While the danger from MDMA is not over, Spellman said, the next two months would seem to pose less of a risk - Dec. 1 is a Sunday and University offices will be closed on Jan. 1. Students returning from vacation during January may bring infected software with them, however, so the MDMA virus could reappear on Feb. 1.

The MDMA virus can be passed along in regular documents like office memos and class assignments that are shared electronically with other users, Spellman said. MDMA affects different operating platforms, including Windows 3.1, Windows '95 and Windows NT.

To detect whether a computer is infected and guard it from potential harm, users can download virus protection software through the World Wide Web site at /virus_patch.html, or pick up a disk from the IPS Help Center in Gasson Hall or the O'Neill Computing Facility.

Users should scan their computers prior to the first of the month to determine if the virus is present, Spellman said. If the message "You have been infected by the MDMA Virus" appears, she said, users should not turn off their computers: The files are already deleted and the computer, if turned off, will not restart.

Users should make a back-up of all important documents, Spellman continued, and using the virus software, scan and clean documents on their hard disks. "If you are restoring files from back-up, it's very important to make sure these are not infected," she said. "Otherwise, you'll simply be reintroducing the virus to your computer."

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