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Virus returns to hit personal, business PC users


The Win95.CIH virus returned this month to create havoc for thousands of computer users across the globe, according to published reports.

The virus activates itself on the 26th of the month, and can scramble the hard drives of even damage some users' computer hardware. It affects only PCs, not Mac-based systems.

In July, its effects weren't fully felt, since the 26th fell on the weekend.

However this month, the 26th was Wednesday, a regular business day, and everyone whose system was infected discovered this fact when they could no longer use their computers.

A number of anti-virus and data recovery firms disclosed reports of hundreds of PCs reportedly affected by this month's virus attack. The virus lays dormant and only activates if the computer is powered up on the 26th of the month.

The virus first emerged in April of this year, but this month's activation has had the greatest effect on computer users, according to Ontrack, a data-recovery company.

The virus attacks a user's computer in two ways.

The first is by deleting or scrambling a portion of the user's hard drive, making it difficult to recover its contents.

The second attack affects computers equipped with a flash BIOS ROM chip.

The virus attempts to reprogram the computer's BIOS -- its basic set of operating instructions and setup information -- by replacing it with garbage.

If the BIOS instructions are damaged, it makes the PC unbootable.

Computer users most at risk include anyone who regularly downloads files from the Internet, or exchanges executable files with others by e-mail or disk.

And as is usually the case, an ounce of prevention will keep virus bugs from taking a "byte" out of your computer system.

A good anti-virus program will greatly reduce your chances of "catching" a computer virus like Win95.CIH.

If you have an anti-virus program on your computer, be sure to keep it updated on a regular basis to insure against its becoming out of date.

If you don't have one yet, there are a number of packages available locally and on the Web. A number of them offer online trials of their software, allowing you to download their product and evaluate it.

If you like the software, you can purchase it; otherwise it "expires" and can be deleted from a user's hard drive.

Want more information on anti-virus software? Try PC World's March 1998 issue, which can be accessed via their Web site.

Point your browser to www.pcworld.com and once there, perform a search on the site for "virus killers 1998" (without the quotation marks). You'll find the magazine's complete overview of PC-based anti-virus software.

E-MAIL EXPLOSION. Web-based e-mail systems continue to sprout like dandelions after an early summer rain.

Hotmail has long been the most successful at the game, attracting attention from Microsoft, who bought the company last December.

The company boasts having some 22 million members.

Netscape's Netcenter has been heavily promoting its own version with its free WebMail service in e-mail messages sent to anyone who signed up at their Netcenter home page, complete with its own Silver Screen Sweepstakes, offering a variety of prizes to new customers.

Why the popularity of Web-based e-mail?

Ease of use, low (no) cost, and the fact that you can read your e-mail from any computer anywhere that can connect to the World Wide Web are just some of the advantages promoters cite about their services.

But is it secure?

A group of Canadian programmers announced last week they had found a way to fool Hotmail (and other Web-based e-mail) users into revealing their login and passwords.

Their trick was simple: Send special Javascript coding with the e-mail as an attachment.

When the e-mail message is opened, the Javascript is executed by the user's Web browser.

The Javascript coding can create a false "timeout" message, prompting a user to re-enter their password to continue using the account.

Hotmail reported late last week they had fixed their Web site to eliminate this type of attack, and other services are expected to follow suit with their own fixes.

The programmers say that the best protection from this type of attack is to turn off your Web browser's Javascript option, though fixes at the various Web e-mail services should make this step unnecessary.

Other tips include:

Don't open messages from unknown parties;

Don't enter your password in an unexpected password prompt. Use the back button on your browser or a bookmark to enter your Web-based e-mail account;

GROWING HOTTER. Speaking of Web-based e-mail, Microsoft is expanding its Hotmail service outside the boundaries of the U.S.

Hotmail will be offering free e-mail in five countries -- Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France and Germany.

The service will also be offering content, as well as additional fee-based services like voice mail and faxes via e-mail.

DSL ROLLOUT MOVING SLOWLY. For Internet users chomping at the bit for faster access, the rollout of the much-awaited Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) services is moving ever-so slowly.

DSL will offer real-world speeds up to 1.5 megabits per second over regular copper wire -- for a price.

The Baby Bells are taking the lead charge in getting the services deployed, though it seems Kentucky services aren't at the top of anyone's list.

GTE's trials of ADSL in Texas were deemed a success earlier this year, and they'll be deploying more trial ADSL service in Redmond, Wash.

Early on, the service will cost nearly double to triple your monthly Internet bill, so you might not want to throw away that 33.6 or 56k modem quite yet.

For more information on GTE's DSL service, point your browser to http://www.gte.com/dsl/.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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