Posted on Sunday, December 09 @ 10:32:49 PST
When the Goner virus was first discovered Tuesday,
officials at Network Associates, a computer security
company in Santa Clara, Calif., were scanning about 1,000
of the computer-fouling files an hour sent for inspection
from infected customers.
But Craig Schmugar, a virus research engineer with the
company, said by Friday computer users were taking steps
to counter Goner and the company was scanning only about
250 files per hour.
While viruses are not new, they have grown in
The Goner virus is an example of one of these new, more
The destructive program deletes critical files for any
security or anti-virus program installed on a computer.
Without anti-virus software or an updated version, users
With the protection rendered useless, an unauthorized
person can enter the computer at a later date.
Also, once active on the machine, the virus affects
Microsoft’s Outlook and Outlook Express e-mail programs
on computers running Windows, which may not allow them to
Experts say an anti-virus program will greatly reduce
the chance of a home user’s computer becoming infected.
"Pick up a copy and update it regularly. It is one
more solution to be secure," said Art Farnham,
president of Atlantus Systems Inc. of Dover.
In 1987, when a virus infected ARPANET, a large network
used by the Defense Department and many universities, the
market for anti-virus programs started growing rapidly.
But viruses continue to take their toll. In 1998, a
virus known as Chernobyl affected more than one million
computers in Korea resulting in about $2 million in
Such viruses are a far cry from the early ones which
were mostly nuisances and harmless pranks. Early viruses
might have caused a message to be displayed when a certain
key was struck, but little else.
Those who create viruses no longer need to know
technical computer languages to cause havoc in a computer
system. Rather they visit underground Web sites to
download programs to create the destructive programs.
"More are trying it because (viruses) are simpler
to write. They can just point and click," said Candy
Alexander, New England chapter president of the
Information Systems Security Association.
Currently there are roughly 57,000 known viruses and
every two to three months a new one is released.
Alexander said while many companies maintain rigid
controls to protect their systems from viruses, most of
the problems are caused by home users who pass it on to
one another via e-mail or tainted disks.
Experts said the best way for a computer user to
protect a system is to buy an anti-virus program and
update it weekly. The updates, which are typically
downloaded from an Internet site, alert the anti-virus
program to new threats and keep them out of the computer.
"The home user needs to take some precautionary
measures," Alexander said.
For between $30 and $50, computer users can buy an
anti-virus program. If a computer becomes infected,
repairing and retrieving lost data can cost users between
$50 to $500.
"Keep calm if your computer has been infected by a
virus. Panic does not get rid of a computer virus,"
said Daniel Murphree, who operates Agape Computers in
He said many viruses can be removed with little or no
data loss. Users have little to worry about if they
install an anti-virus application and continue to update
it weekly, he said.
It also is easier to repair the damage done by a
malicious program when you have a backup of your computer
software and important data, Murphree added.
To keep from getting a virus, experts advise that
people not open unexpected e-mail attachments, even if the
sender is someone familiar.
"People have to be self-disciplined ... If there
is any doubt, just delete it," said Jim Cerny, an
information technologist at the University of New
Once on a machine, Goner as well as other recent
viruses will scan a user’s e-mail address book and mail
itself to the people listed. The recipients may not be
aware that a virus has been sent to them.
"They piggyback on other programs," Cerny
said. "Some have a payload to do something
Only if the e-mail is opened will it be activated and
infect the computer.
Once on the system, the virus implants itself in the
computer, replicates itself and executes whatever it was
programmed to do.
David Longo, owner of Hampton Computer, said viruses
can destroy software programs such as Microsoft Word or
render internal parts inoperable.
"They can render a system useless," he said.
Longo said viruses have come a long way in their
development. They now can destroy computers, allow hackers
access to sensitive information and bring systems to a
Cerny said one of the earliest major viruses was a worm
in 1988 that spread over much of the Internet. The
infection caused computers to become overloaded with
information and stop working.
An infected computer my take two to three days to
repair depending on the severity of the infection.
Farnham said in an incident four years ago, he had
about seven computers networked together that became
infected within three hours of receiving a virus. The
whole system had to be shut down for several days to clean
Longo said while he has not seen the Goner virus,
several months ago he serviced a computer that had been
infected with a similar virus. He had to reload everything
onto the hard drive, a device the computer uses to store
Reinstalling the software on a computer can be an
all-day affair. Whatever has not been placed onto a disk
for backup may be lost forever.
Virus programmers cooperate with each other and share
information, Alexander said.
"Another hacker can take (an old virus) and make
it better. It becomes more dangerous and more
destructive," she said.
She said some programmers create viruses because they
are looking for a technical challenge or to prove their
level of skill to friends.
These programmers, called "script kiddies,"
surf the Internet for sites where they can grab copies of
viruses to tinker with or exchange information about how
to defeat virus protection.
Alexander said while she was recently doing some reconnaissance
on the Internet, she found one such underground Web site.
Virus programmers already are planning their attack on
Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows XP, she said.