Virus concerns prompt Internet disconnections

by Zachary Goldstein | 11/20/03 6:00am

Seventy-six students are no longer able to access the campus Internet after Computer Services followed through on its threat to disconnect virus-infected computers last week. "Probably a couple dozen more" had been disconnected but were granted renewed access after removing the virus from their computers, according to Bill Brawley of Computing Services.

The service denials come after Computing Services sent out a campus-wide e-mail earlier this month announcing that over 2000 student computers were infected with the Welchia worm virus which was causing severe lag on the campus network. That e-mail instructed students in the steps required to diagnose and, if necessary, treat their computers for the virus.

"Should the network's performance continue to suffer, we will be forced to deny access to machines that are abusing, however unintentionally, the network," the Nov. 6 e-mail warned. "We do not want to turn off your network access but we will to protect the integrity of the network."

Service denials began a week later, but according to Brawley, most students took notice of the email and took the steps to rid their computers of the virus.

"It's looking like the network's clearing up," Brawley said. "It appears that the e-mails we sent had a big effect and went a long way toward clearing it up."

While it can be hard to get an exact reading on how many campus computers are infected, Brawley estimated that the number of "ping" attacks from infected computers on other computers have decreased by one-third.

The Welchia worm -- which only attacks Windows computers -- infects a computer, but has no adverse effects visible to the user. However, an infected computer constantly send out "pings" over the network searching for other computers which it can infect. It is this abundant flood of ping activity that swamps the network, slowing down entire subnets, effectively allowing one infected computer to neutralize an entire building's network and Internet access. Wireless networks are particularly susceptible.

Computing Services will continue to block infected computers that they identify as computers that are continuing to send out these "pings." Students whose computers have been disconnected will not necessarily be informed, according to Brawley.

"If you can't get on the network and everything else seems normal, I would say you should check with the help desk to see if you are on the blocked list," Brawley said.

While there are no plans to send out another e-mail, as the problem seems to be on the decline, Brawley encourages students to practice "good computer hygiene," which starts off with downloading and using the free Norton Anti-Virus software provided by Computing Services.

"You want to make sure you download virus definition updates on a regular basis, and also download Windows patches regularly," Brawley said. "You can even set up both to run and download by themselves."

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