Last week’s Anna Kournikova virus bounced out of campus as quickly as it arrived.
The virus, disguised as an e-mail and attachment luring viewers to a photo of leggy tennis star Anna Kournikova, spread quickly Feb. 12 and 13 through campus, as it did through many parts of the world. While causing an annoyance, it did not overload campus e-mail servers or damage data systems.
Computer experts at UC Davis say that’s in part because more people are recognizing that an attachment from an unfamiliar sender means trouble.
"You look at it and go OK, another one," said Matthew Bishop, an associate professor of computer science who studies security issues.
Most people in his department didn’t open the e-mail, he said, immediately recognizing its potential danger.
"We certainly have been hit by the viruses, but we aren’t usually significantly affected because of the technology community on campus," said Pat Kava, manager of the Technology Coordination unit in Infor-mation and Educational Technology.
Kava touts the Technology Support Program, which holds brown bag meetings and training programs for tech staff. It also operates a Listserv, which allows word of potential viruses to spread quickly to campus departments.
It is more difficult to inform students about impending viruses, but UC Davis also encourages them to run anti-virus programs on home and university computers, said Kava, whose department runs the IT Express help desk. Users can purchase the Norton anti-virus software program through the UC Davis Bookstore.
With the recent virus outbreak, the campus was also aided by the fact that Anna Kournikova–an unsophisticated virus created by a software tool kit–targeted users of Microsoft Outlook, said Bob Ono, UC Davis’ information technology security coordinator. The university also uses several other e-mail programs besides Outlook.
Campus workers, students must remember to take precautions
Computer viruses could remain a persistent problem on campus if the majority of employees and students don’t take precautions, he said.
One issue is that the campus, unlike many other organizations and corporations, does not operate with one central e-mail server complex, Ono said. Instead there are several independently operated e-mail servers. He believes a more comprehensive anti-virus program would provide virus checks and removal at the desktop, server and the Internet gateway level.
"If we had all those (controls), we’d have a very effective anti-virus program."
Ono offered the following tips for keeping personal computers, and the campus’s systems, virus safe:
• Don’t open e-mail attachments from addresses you don’t recognize.
• Don’t download files, like screen savers, from unknown sources on the Internet.
• Keep your anti-virus programs and signature files updated. This allows the program to recognize the most current virus infections.
• Check Internet sites, like www. antivirus.com, or www.symantec.com, to learn about the latest viruses before they hit your computer.
Effects of infection can vary
At their worst, viruses delete files and programs from computers and servers, or transfer even the most sensitive files to an inappropriate place.
In these cases, the virus has every power of a human hacker manually going through systems, Bishop said.
"If you can sit down and do it, the virus can do it," he said.
Already, Ono is following the infection rate of another Valentine’s Day themed virus, the recently recognized "vbs.valentin.a." That virus has the ability to infect computers with Microsoft Outlook as its recipients merely preview the e-mail, rather than opening it.
Valentin.a, which has not spread to campus, can be particularly tricky to detect, Ono said, because it comes with no subject, message or attachment.
One more reason to keep your anti-virus program current.
Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932, email@example.com