The name Michelangelo usually conjures up images of great and majestic works of art. These days the name is more likely to conjure up images of destroyed data and ravaged computers.
Computer owners and computer users around the world are on the lookout for an insidious virus, named for the famed artist, that is set to wreak havoc on March 6, Michelangelo's birthday.
"We are trying to save as many machines and as much data as possible," says Patricia M. Hoffman of Santa Clara, Calif., an authority on detecting and neutralizing computer viruses. "Michelangelo is the second-most reported virus at this time [after the "Stoned" virus]. We estimate that between 500,000 and 5 million PCs are infected with Michelangelo."
According to Ms. Hoffman, the Michelangelo virus first was detected in April 1991 in Sweden and the Netherlands.
She received the first sample of the virus that she could use in research in June.
On March 6, Ms. Hoffman explains, "when you turn on an !B infected computer, the system boot will not be successful. You will get a blank screen, but there will be a lot of disk activity. What is happening is that the virus will overwrite the entire hard disk with random characters from system memory."
Thanks to the work of Ms. Hoffman and others, though, Michelangelo is detectable and curable. The virus has already been discovered and neutralized in several computers in Maryland.
OC "You always hate to see a virus on a customer's computer," says
technical consultant John Stalnaker of Frederick Computers Plus. "It seems that once they've had a virus, they seem to be vulnerable to other ones. You clean off their hard disk and all the floppies in the place, and then they get in another disk from somewhere and another virus comes in with it."
Mr. Stalnaker has discovered several viruses when he has been called to fix what customers first perceived to be a hardware problem.
"If you notice any strange problems on your computer, it may not be broken. Look for a virus," he advises. "If you trade disks with other people, always use a virus scanning program. I think the McAfee Associates' program is one of the best."
McAfee Associates is a computer software company in Santa Clara, Calif., that has developed a program to scan for and clean viruses.
Henry Prentiss of Advanced Data Services Inc., in Frederick adds a further warning: "Stay away from pirated software. That's a hotbed for viruses. If something looks like a free lunch, chances are it is too good to be true."