Computer virus threat thwarted

Many schools' systems still down after `Chernobyl' scare

April 28, 1999|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County school officials got the system's central computers back up and running yesterday, after thwarting a computer virus that had threatened to destroy dozens of school computers across the county.

Many schools' computers are still down, especially those at smaller schools, though officials hope they will be checked out and "cleaned" by the end of the week.

Eight computers hit by the Chernobyl virus initially, however, might be gone for good. Technicians were able to save much of the information stored on the hard drives, but the computers are, in effect, telling themselves not to restart, said Robert C. Leib, director of business services for the schools.

As the technicians fan out to schools across the county, he said, they are likely to find more computers irreparably damaged.

School officials shut down more than 7,000 personal computers Monday after technicians found the virus on those first eight machines. The virus attacks and decodes computer hard drives.

Technicians searched the Internet yesterday for information on Chernobyl. By midmorning, they had developed an antidote that used three anti- virus programs.

"If we can locate [the virus] and get to it before someone executes a program that has it, we can save that computer," Leib said. "But you won't know you have it until you try to open something that is carrying it."

School officials instructed people not to touch their computers until they are cleaned.

The situation would have been worse, Leib said, had it not been for a computer technician at the schools' computer "help desk," who had read warnings about Chernobyl and recognized the symptoms early, when people called saying their computers weren't working.

The virus, believed to have originated on Taiwan, was timed to strike yesterday on the 13th anniversary of the Russian nuclear disaster.

"We got through the Melissa virus [last month] without a scratch when most people were hit hard," Leib said. "Most of those people stepped up their anti-viral software after that. We should have taken a step up too, I think. But it's easy to say that in hindsight."

He said they would be adding new protections in the following weeks.

Administrators and teachers scrambled to adjust yesterday to a day devoid of computers.

In the central office, three office assistants waited in line to use a typewriter found in the closet.

Schools spokeswoman Jane Doyle said administrators for the first time in years took attendance by hand and wrote letters to parents in longhand.

Most people, she said, were using the day to fish through paperwork piling up on their desks.

"It's been really interesting," Doyle said. "Like everyone else, I am used to clicking on my computer in the morning and working on it all day. When my secretary just said I could turn mine on again, I was really excited."

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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