Wanted: Computer virus in School of Comm

A virus known as Worm_NYXEM.E propagated through the e-mail listserv of the School of Communication’s advisement office during the second week of August.

Worm_NYXEM.E was last seen on the Microsoft Outlook program of Luis Herrera, the assistant dean of admissions, academic and alumni services for the School of Communication. The virus proceeded to compose e-mail messages and attached a copy of itself to the messages before sending them out to all the undergraduates of the School of Communication.

Disguised as an actual user, the worm has various aliases and programmed messages as well as e-mail subject lines. Some examples of the past subject lines used by the virus include “A Great Video,” “Fw: Funny :) ” and “Photos.” In the message body, the text might read “Please see the file,” “Thank you” or “How are you?”

The attachments may appear as Word documents, a picture files or e-Books.

The virus also hunts down antivirus files on a person’s computer and attempts to delete them as a preventative measure.

Trend Micro, a company that specializes in anti-virus and Internet content security software, said on its website that besides disseminating itself via e-mail and network shares, the virus has also been known to copy itself in physical drives and floppy drives.

“It’s funny. I wasn’t aware that I had a virus,” Herrera said in response to his computer troubles.

He said he first noticed the worm when he received a “delivery status notification” indicating that a prior e-mail delivery had failed. Herrera said the subject line of his supposed e-mail message was “Image.” A subsequent review of his “sent items” list revealed that he had never actually sent the message himself.

“I receive 100-plus e-mails,” said Herrera. “[They] encompass general information about admissions, academic and alumni services. ‘Image’ would not be one of [the subjects covered].”

The sender address on the “Image” e-mail also pointed to the possibility of a computer virus having sent it. The address listed resembled Herrera’s e-mail address except it was written in all capital letters. Herrera’s real address is written in all lowercase letters.

The biggest hint arrived when Herrera received e-mails from some students warning him about the virus.

“Luis gets e-mails from all over the world,” said Tomas Ortiz, the director of the school’s Engineering and Operations department.

Ortiz explained that a virus is “a simple program written to take advantage of operating systems’ vulnerabilities.” Herrera’s computer was vulnerable through the vast number of e-mails he receives.

Herrera’s computer was checked immediately after the warnings, Ortiz said

Jasmine Bager, a senior, said she received three virus-laden messages from Herrera in early August.

“I opened one,” she said.

After her computer’s virus scanner detected the worm, Bager said she deleted the remaining messages without opening them.

Bager is familiar with the inconveniences associated with viruses. Previously a virus wiped out her computer’s harddrive. All the files that were not backed up were lost as a result. Bager said she was working on a 15-page paper at the time and she lost the assignment after finishing the fifteenth page, which she said was very upsetting.

Some e-mail services come ready equipped with virus scanners. MSN’s Hotmail has Trend Micro, Yahoo has Norton Antivirus and Google’s Gmail has its own automated virus scanner.

However, viruses, worms and Trojan horses can still find a way into PCs and notebooks.

“You’re never protected 100 percent,” Ortiz said. He added that worms and viruses may sometimes be masked as if they were coming from a computer other than the original.

Trojan horses hide in hard drives, making it hard for even a computer programmer to find.

Other cyber enemies are able to record credit card numbers for the virus sender.

To counter the adverse effects of a computer virus, students may purchase USB drives that can store up to one gigabyte of files, or they may subscribe to myUMbackup on UM’s website where two gigabytes of space are offered for $80 per year.

DormAid, a new service on campus, offers PC back-up for students as a part of their services.

America Online recently announced it will provide up to 50 GB of backup space for its paid subscribers through a site called Xdrive.

“Most of the time, people get [viruses] again from going to the same websites,” Ruano said.

Moreover, he advised students to avoid opening e-mails from unknown senders and read every pop-up so as to avoid unknowingly installing spyware.

After Herrera applied those steps, there have been no other reports of infected messages being received or sent.

“Luckily, it is something that didn’t damage much, but I learned my lesson,” Herrera said.

As for saving files in the university’s server, Tomas Ortiz said that faculty, staff and students will probably get 10 GBs of storage when the new School of Communication building is completed.

He said the new building will have a separate room for a larger server with about 20 terabytes, the equivalent of 20,000 GBs worth of storage space, for the School of Communication.

In the past, UM’s network had an antivirus scanner in the server, but Ruano said commuter students who took the program home could not receive the automatic updates performed through the server.

Currently, the university is attempting to correct this by having all students uninstall the old program and download the complete Symantec Antivirus software from UM’s website for free.

The goal is to have the upgrades finished by the end of the fall semester and ready for the spring semester.

Another goal Ruano hopes to achieve is to install an antivirus scanner directly inside the university’s exchange server.

“There are not too many vendors out there for hardware antivirus,” Ruano said.

He said that finding a company whose program provides quick solutions is difficult.

For now, the IT department uses tools from a program called EI Digital, which locates possible vulnerabilities. Ruano said the department then notifies the engineering administrators of each school to attend to the problems.

Ilya Kozavchinsky contributed to this story.

Walyce Almeida may be contacted at w.almeida@umiami.edu.