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CCIT officials warn against 'Melissa' virus

By Audrey DeAnda
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 30, 1999
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UA computer experts yesterday warned students an e-mail virus that debilitated more than 50,000 systems worldwide could spread to their personal accounts.

While the "Melissa" virus does not effect the computer's memory or programs, it causes e-mail servers to crash. The virus also infiltrates personal accounts, taking names from the user's address book and sending messages to 50 names from the list.

The warning from University of Arizona computer officials - delete immediately any e-mail from with the subject header reading "Important message."

The message contains an attachment that, if opened, infects an individual's e-mail system and begins sending 50 more.

"The virus could get into individual systems if the person downloads something from the Internet," said Mike Means, support desk consultant for the Center for Computing and Information Technology. "That's why you should never download something unless you now what it is."

Although individual student's accounts can be affected, the university's e-mail system, known as the U-cluster, along with the UA's main website, are both protected, Means said.

"The virus will have no effect on the main system because it's a (personal computer) virus which isn't compatible with Unix (the UA's system)," he said.

The "Melissa" virus was first reported to the Computer Emergency Response Team on Friday. The team, which originates from the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is a national service that fields complaints and distributes warnings to alert users about viruses.

The emergency team received reports from all across the nation that a Microsoft Word 97 and Word 2000 macro virus was propagating via e-mail.

"The number and variety of reports we have received indicate that this is a widespread attack affecting a variety of sites," CEPT's warning stated.

Viji Muralidharan, CCIT systems programming manager, said workers at the center are keeping an eye on the virus' progress.

"We are monitoring the situation and the server to make sure we don't see any unusual activity," Muralidharan said.

CCIT can detect "mail bombs" or viruses such as "Melissa" by increased mail message activity.

"So far we have not heard of any widespread problems," she said.

CCIT officials said students need to fight the virus by taking matters into their own hands.

"We have protected the server, but you still need to protect yourself," Muralidharan said.

The CCIT offers a virus-scanner program called Dr. Solomon which can be downloaded free of charge from any location on campus, Means said.

"In dorms or labs, you can download right away," he said

Dr. Solomon is available from the Sitelicense web page at http://www.sitelicense.arizona.edu.