NU struck by virus via e-mail

Sasha Talcott

A computer virus that corrupts system files beyond repair and blocks access to antivirus Web sites hit more than 100 Northwestern computers this month after students downloaded a disguised attachment from campus listservs.

The W95.MTX virus has quickly become the “star” virus of the quarter and the nemesis of residential networking consultants, who have spent hours clearing the virus from dorm computers and educating students on virus protection, said McCormick senior Justin Koh.

Once a user’s computer is infected, the virus immediately blocks access to antivirus Web sites and sends a copy of itself each time the user sends e-mail. It also slows down the computer and causes programs to crash, forcing the user to restart the computer.

“These virus things just spread,” Koh said. “Because you send it through listservs, you can affect many computers at once. The virus looks like it’s coming from someone you know.”

The antivirus Web site www.Symantec.com rates the virus as being a medium threat but describes it as difficult to remove.

The virus is designed to attract younger users, calling itself 25 different names, including “New_playboy_screen_saver.scr,” “New_Napster_site.txt.pif” and “Blink_182.mp3.pif.”

Koh said Willard Residential College and Bobb Hall were hit the hardest, with about 50 and 35 cases, respectively. Delta Delta Delta and Kappa Alpha Theta reported about 10 to 12 cases each, Koh said. Koh estimated that the virus has infected fewer than 200 student computers.

“In the larger dorms and the more social dorms, people just see it on the listserv and give it a double click and they’re infected,” he said.

The virus was first discovered on U.S. computers in August, but it exploded on campus at the beginning of Winter Quarter.

Weinberg sophomore Nikhil Waingankar said he lost all the information stored on his computer — including more than 400 MP3 files — when the virus forced him to re-install his system software.

“It’s very evil,” he said. “I hate it. I’m still replacing stuff I lost on my hard drive. But I’m trying to be optimistic about it. I didn’t listen to all (the MP3s) anyway.”

When he sent an e-mail to Sigma Phi Epsilon’s listserv, he unwittingly sent the virus to his entire fraternity.

He said he inadvertently downloaded the virus in November but that he did not think much about it until his computer began to crash. At one point, Waingankar said, the damage got so bad that he could not even boot up his computer.

Koh said students are especially vulnerable to viruses because they do not regularly update their antivirus software. If a student does not have the latest version, it will be useless in fighting the virus, Koh said.

“We want to educate users about the danger of this application,” he said. “We as res cons can’t just go in there and make sure their computers are up to date. They have to take responsibility for their own equipment.”

Speech sophomore Robb Preston said he spent an entire day trying to get rid of the virus, which he accidentally downloaded during Fall Quarter. He said he finally solved the problem by using a friend’s computer to e-mail himself a copy of the updated antivirus software and reinstalling Windows.

“It roughed me up pretty good,” Preston said. “It gets in your system and there’s nothing you can do about it at that point.”

Preston said he continued to send e-mail to his fraternity’s listserv, even though he knew that his computer would automatically attach the virus. He said he tried to solve this problem by writing in the e-mail not to open any attachments.

“It always had to be those embarrassing titles,” he said. “People would say to me, ‘Robb, why are you sending us those e-mails about bestiality?'”