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Virus strikes in Carson Valley

by Linda Hiller

“I love you,” should be a term of endearment, but on your computer’s e-mail as an attachment, it can be pretty hateful.

A virus-containing e-mail named “ILOVEYOU” surfaced around the nation early Thursday.

“We discovered it around 9 a.m.,” said Douglas County information systems supervisor, John Endter. “We were trying to clean it out through virus protection software, and during that time I opened it and it got executed. It didn’t take long to realize we had a problem.”

Endter, 38, said the first sign of a virus entering the county e-mail system was the fact that the computer’s hard drive was working particularly hard at opening the e-mail attachment.

“That’s usually a red flag,” he said. “You can hear it working hard and it takes a long time to open.”

At that point, Endter said, information specialists began to quickly shut the system down.

“One of the first things that happened is that when the computer got shut down, the virus couldn’t access the e-mail address list, and it was sending e-mails out to empty mail boxes and they were coming back, showing as ‘undeliverable,'” Endter said. “This is the first time we’ve had a virus of this type – via e-mail. We’ve had others, but most come across through floppy disks brought in.”

Endter said the e-mail that came to the county was labeled “Love-letter-for-you.txt.vbs” and the attachment was where the virus was.

As is usual with e-mail viruses, opening the e-mail itself didn’t release the virus, but opening the attachment did.

– No real danger. Endter said there was never any danger of the county’s emergency system being affected by the e-mail virus because they are on a separate system

“Basically, the county is kind of new to e-mail – only in the last year – and only two computers were affected, they were repaired, and then we went to the Internet and download the data file that includes the latest virus protection. The whole thing started at 9 a.m. and by around 3, we were back to normal.”

Endter said that after the two computers were violated – his and communications director Dick Mirgon – they went to one of the four big anti-virus providers, and waited to get in to download the latest protection against the “love virus.”

“There were so many people trying to get on – probably between two and 2-1/2 million – that it was very slow,” he said.

County e-mail is run through Nanosecond, and Pat Tafoya was instrumental in helping the Endter and Mirgon clean the system after the infection, Mirgon said.

“One of the things we learned is that this virus goes in and changes your internet browser to one in the Philippines,” Mirgon said. “Then, it goes into your files and gets your password files off your hard drive, so it can be potentially devastating. Our 911 system is a completely separate system for this very reason. We don’t allow e-mail and contact from the outside. The ironic thing was, once I got my computer open, I noticed there was a warning against the virus.”

– Schools OK. Bill Ades, management information specialist for the county’s school district, said early Friday afternoon that although he had received two calls from district personnel reporting receiving the e-mail, there had been no contamination of the school’s e-mail or information system.

“Our system is still up and running and we haven’t had any problems to my knowledge,” he said.

Worm viruses can be re-named and re-sent, Endter said, and may be out there as “very funny, joke.vbs or as a Mother’s Day e-mail.

“A worm virus works by resending itself to everyone on your e-mail list when you open it,” Endter said. “That way, it worms itself through the system. We have 125 users in the county and if just two people open it, it goes to their lists and on and on. It’s like a chain reaction and then it blows.”

If you do receive any suspicious e-mail, delete it immediately and be sure to empty your “deleted messages” file.

“A lot of people don’t realize that when they delete it, it is still there unless they empty that file,” Endter said.

County employees have been notified about the virus and even if it hadn’t been caught early, Endter said nothing crucial would have been lost.

“There wouldn’t have been any loss of any critical data, because the jail system and main county sheriff information is on a whole different system,” Endter said. “This virus will only affect a desktop pc.”

For more information on this virus or on the latest anti-virus programs to download, go to http://www.nai.com