On the frontline in the fight against viruses

It usually takes just one attack to make a person fully aware of the frustration and inconvenience created by a computer virus. Some cause little harm; others can be devastating. For home users, the solution can be as simple as installing a personal firewall or anti-virus software. But what does an institution the size of York University do to combat virus threats?

A lot, especially in the face of the recent rise in frequency of bogus e-mails on campus systems. York’s Computing & Network Services (CNS) department maintains a 24/7 approach to warding off attacks, because viruses are released on a daily basis. The job requires constant vigilance: it can take only seconds for a virus, e-mail worm or computer hacker to gain access through an unprotected system. Fortunately for York computer users, the University has invested in a secure firewall and anti-virus gateway. Most viruses are detected and deleted before they can cause damage. The e-mail will arrive with an attachment that says “deleted.txt” indicating the attachment has been deleted because it contains a virus. In the event that a new virus threat could penetrate the University’s defences, CNS issues bulletins to the York community that outline steps computer users can take to secure their system.

“This week has seen a much larger than usual number of new e-mail viruses spreading rapidly on the Internet, and has resulted in a greatly increased volume of virus-laden e-mail being sent to York accounts,” said Chris Russel, Information Security Officer at York. “Viruses are mainly spread via e-mail attachments. Any unexpected message with an attachment should be considered suspect. The ‘From’ address of e-mail is easily forged, so this applies even if the message appears to be from someone you know.”

Russel recommends that if there is a doubt about the e-mail or its accompanying attachment, users should take the time to verify its validity with the sender before opening it. 

Viruses are circulating with more creative subject lines that are geared to enticing the recipient to open the file attachment. “In particular, the latest viruses claim to come from ‘administration@yorku.ca’ or ‘support@yorku.ca’ and state things such as ‘your account will be disabled if you do not follow these instructions’. Or the message may claim your system is infected and you must run the attachment to clean it,” said Russel. “York IT departments do not distribute virus fixes or patches via e-mail attachments, and such messages should be viewed as highly suspicious.”

In addition to being wary of unexpected attachments, Russel advises users to “ensure you are running the latest anti-virus software which is provided by CNS free of charge to all York staff, faculty and students. And, if you are not sure if you are running the latest anti-virus software please contact your local faculty or department technical support team for assistance.”

The free anti-virus software is available by clicking here.

“Viruses are not the only computer security threat. Following a three-point checklist will go a long way in ensuring your computer remains free of viruses and vulnerabilities,” said Russel. The checklist, involving passwords, security updates and anti-virus software, is available, along with other useful information, on the CNS Web site.