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Published: Saturday, 7/17/2004

Old worms never really die

Form. CIH.1106. Sircam and FunLove. Melissa, KakWorm, LoveLetter, Hybris, Badtrans, Klez, and CodeRed.

If you ve used a computer for a few years, some of those names may brings back very bad memories.

They re among thousands of old computer viruses and computer worms. Most people don t realize that old viruses and worms never die. They just fade from view, and wait for a vulnerable victim which could be you.

Some have amazing longevity.

The Form virus, for instance, appeared in the early 1990s. Form found its way into my laptop computer in 1995. One day the keys started making a loud click whenever pressed. The sounds returned the 18th day of each month. The screen displayed a message that included an obscene word. Other odd things happened.

Form paid me another visit last year on a desktop computer that ran on the Windows NT operating system. When I tried to power up the computer next day, it wouldn t start. Later I found out that you should never turn off a Windows NT or Windows 2000 computer infected with Form. The PC probably will not restart and can be difficult to restore.

Newer viruses and worms, like Sasser and MyDoom, tend to get the most attention. However, a lot of older viruses are still circulating. Some, like Form, spread on old infected 3.5-inch floppy diskettes.

Make sure your antivirus software is running before inserting old diskettes.

Most spread over the Internet, infecting only a small number of computers that are still vulnerable.

A computer is vulnerable if the owner connects to the Internet without antivirus software, doesn t keep the software updated with new virus definitions, or fails to download the latest security patches from Microsoft (www.microsoft.com).

Anti-virus updates, available from the manufacturer s web site, are cumulative. That means they protect against previously-identified viruses and worms, including the real old-timers.

Many viruses and worms exploit loopholes in Microsoft programs. Security patches and updates plug the gaps, so that a computer no longer is vulnerable. They also are cumulative, patching security gaps from the past.

New computers may not be fully protected against yesterday s worms and viruses.

Their software was loaded at the factory, often months you open the shipping box. The computer may be vulnerable to threats that appeared since then.

New computers may get those updates automatically during startup. If you re not sure, make a beeline for the anti-virus manufacturer s web site and the Microsoft site.

Several readers tell sad stories about computers that haven t been connected to the Internet in months, without access to security or antivirus updates. One used a laptop only for word processing for almost a year. When she finally connected, it got hit with all kinds of viruses and worms.

If you plan to connect such a computer, Microsoft offers cumulative security patches on CDs. They re available without charge at http://www.microsoft.com/security/protect/cd/order.asp.

Once connected, get antivirus updates immediately.



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