National system to alert for viruses
Date: January 30, 2004
Source: The Digital Collegian
By Rebecca Oberholtzer
The government may not be able to stop computer viruses, but it has come up with a service to help computer users detect them more easily and keep them from infecting their computers.
On Wednesday, the National Cyber Alert System sent out its first Internet warning about a worm that is attacking many computers around the country.
Consumers can visit the Web site, www.us-cert.gov, to sign up for free cyber alerts from the Homeland Security Department.
The alerts, which are sent to the subscriber's e-mail account, are part of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, a plan the government introduced about 11 months ago.
"[It]'s good and proactive, but it can also backfire," said Joseph Lambert, senior associate dean for the School of Information Sciences and Technology. "The downside is the bad guys will start sending e-mails to home users saying 'Hey, this is a message from a national organization to download patches' ... and users will open them unknowingly."
Patrick Schweiker (freshman-crime, law and justice) said he fell prey to a computer virus.
"[Viruses] really piss me off. I want to know who's sitting around all day thinking about, 'Who can I piss off today?' "
He said the virus he opened recently looked legitimate.
"I thought it was from my boss, and I just got the job, so I didn't know his e-mail," Schweiker said.
The announcement of the government's alert service came about the same time as the national outbreak of the "Mydoom," or "Norvarg," worm.
The worm infects computers using Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating systems. In addition to sending out tainted e-mail, the program appears to open up a back door so hackers can take over the computer later.
Kathleen Kimball, director of security operations and services for Information Technology Services (ITS), said the university is investigating some cases of the worm that are believed to be linked to the latest outbreak. She said there are between 50 to 100 cases on campus that her office knows about.
ITS has its own virus alert page at www.its.psu.edu, so students and Penn State faculty can access information on their own.
She said students who use university e-mail services have an advantage over those using services such as Yahoo! or MSN, for example, because e-mail coming over the server gets filtered by the Penn State server.
Any reputable organization that sends out warnings about viruses will not include an attachment. For example, some claim to be from a Penn State anti-virus agency, but if this is the case it will give instructions in the e-mail, not an attachment, Kimball said.
"Even if it comes from someone you know, it may be because they have a virus. If you just contact the person real quick, and they go 'Huh?' then it's probably a virus," Kimball said.
John Lamothe (graduate-English) said he already receives virus alerts from the English department.
"For me, this type of service is not beneficial, but it might be for someone who doesn't already receive alerts," Lamothe said.
The same day the government's new program was announced, the site received more than 1 million visitors.
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