Computer virus strikes Howard County Program infects files in sheriff's office system

March 13, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

Four years after the Michelangelo computer virus wreaked havoc on personal computer users, the old nemesis or something similar to it has bedeviled hard drives at the Howard County Sheriff's Department.

The department and county computer technicians worked feverishly this week to restore files gobbled by the virus, which struck two computers on the system's network March 6, the birthday of the legendary Italian Renaissance artist for which it is named.

Sheriff Michael A. Chiuchiolo said the virus caused only a temporary headache. He said the department had not used an anti-virus program to protect the system, but that all files had been duplicated and were being reinstalled on the system.

"It has caused a lot of down time," Sheriff Chiuchiolo said.

He said the virus affected computerized records that kept track of prisoners coming into the circuit courthouse for trials and hearings. Instead of using the computer to log in the inmates, department employees Thursday and Friday had to record information the old-fashioned way by hand.

He said the problem could have been worse. "Had our civil process system gone down, we would have been in real trouble," Sheriff Chiuchiolo said. "We still would have been able to recover the files because we backed them up, too." The sheriff said he did not identify the source of the problem, but speculated that an employee may have brought an infected disk from home.

Richard Biggs, administrator of the county's Information Systems Services Office, said the virus operated like the infamous Michelangelo, infecting the boot system of Sheriff's Department computers. But he said his technicians could not verify whether the virus was the real Michelangelo.

"The Sheriff's Department has been advised to invest $79 to purchase the Norton anti-virus program and not risk having anything like this happen again," he said.

Computer viruses are spread by people who develop the harmful programs to destroy computer files on hard drives or create other system problems. The virus can be transmitted through cyberspace or infected disks often without the user having a clue they are corrupting their system.

The director of Howard Community College's computer system said that although computer users must constantly guard against the daily spread of new viruses, it can take years to vanquish old ones like the Michelangelo.

"It's like smallpox. Once it was out there, it took many, many years to wipe off the face of the earth," said Lloyd A. Case, executive director of HCC's information services. "And Michelangelo still pops up here and there."

Pub Date: 3/13/96

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