No joke: Conficker-C worm poised to strike on April 1

Personal computer users could get a nasty April Fool’s surprise if they don’t take the time now to protect their computer’s operating systems. That’s because on April 1, a new version of the potent computer virus known as the Conficker worm is poised to strike desktops that use Microsoft Windows.

File:Apple with worm dan gerh 01.svgThe real joke is that very little is known about the virus. No one is certain how the new variant, known as the Conficker-C worm, will attack personal computers – or if it will do anything at all. What is known from previous versions of Conficker is that the Conficker-C version is designed to manipulate a personal computer’s hard drive and copy financial and personal information, including system passwords.

Worse, the user of an infected personal computer may not know the machine is infected. The worm lies dormant until the appointed day of attack – in this case April 1, according to anti-virus specialists – then disables anti-virus programs, prevents Microsoft Windows updates and turns the infected computer into a drone or zombie machine under the control of a master machine located somewhere in the World Wide Web. Researchers estimate that at least 3 million Windows computers worldwide may have already been infected and the number could be as high as 15 million.

Once a computer is infected, the worm forms its own network, infecting other computers and forcing those computers to communicate with the master computer and carry out operations it directs. On April 1, currently infected computers will ask the master for instructions. These could include probing your machine for information related to your e-mail address book, credit card numbers, bank transfers, passwords, browsing history and more. But no one is sure what, if anything, will happen.

York’s Computing & Network Services is taking the potential threat posed by the worm seriously. Chris Russel, director of information technology infrastructure for CNS, says the University is ready and prepared to send this worm to the compost heap. "The worm spreads through systems that are not up-to-date," says Russel. "Most of the York systems have been patched and there are protections built into the campus network to protect users from Conficker-C.

"York students, faculty and staff are also protected by the Symantec Software site licence made available by the University free of charge," says Russel. "It is important though that their Windows updates and anti-virus software be up-to-date."

CNS is already in the process of scanning all computers on campus to try to detect any infected machines. There is still a small threat posed by computer users who bring their own computers to campus. Russel urges them to take a number of simple steps to keep their machine, and the University’s network, safe from Conficker-C.

All computer users can visit the Protecting Your Computer Web page located on the CNS Web site. On the Web page are a number of steps to protect home computers. These steps include patching your machine’s Windows operating system by installing automatic Windows Updates. Updates can also be downloaded through the Microsoft Update Web site. Home computer users should also update their anti-virus and malware software.

Click here for more information from Microsoft on the Conficker-C worm.