Tuesday, February 13, 2001
Steamboat Springs Beware of a sexy tennis pro lurking in your computer she's carrying a virus.
"The virus originated in Europe and within 12 hours it hit here," said Routt County systems administrator Hummer Marchand.
Marchand was talking about the "Kournikova Virus," named after tennis player Anna Kournikova, that hit the United States on Monday. It came as an attachment with the file name: Kournikova.jpg.vbs
"We were one of the first recipients," Marchand said.
Fortunately for Routt County, Marchand said, it has a team of computer "geeks" who take virus prevention seriously.
The virus was deleted by almost all county employees. For the three people who opened the virus attachment, Marchand managed to isolate the virus before it impacted the county's computer systems.
"In the last couple of months of 2000, we made this a priority and it's paid off," said the county's information systems director, Brad Barkey.
The county has been attacked by "hundreds of viruses" in just the last few months alone.
Barkey and Marchand said the county's first line of defense is the 175 computer users who work for Routt County.
"We try to educate our users to recognize an e-mail attachment that has a virus," Marchand said. "We tell them not to open an attachment unless they're expecting it; not even from from their own dad."
Marchand also has installed anti-virus software, which is constantly updated by anti-virus organizations that stay on the lookout for viruses.
Marchand said the county has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past few months in potential lost time and data.
"If we hadn't been able to rebuff these things and we lost data every time we were hit, we would lose hundreds of (working) hours and data we couldn't recover," Marchand said.
One virus that managed to get through in October still has the county's computer experts reeling.
"It was a variant of the 'Love Letter' virus," Barkey said. "It just basically replaced good data with bad data and we're still assessing the cost of that."
Barkey said the virus managed to wreck several years of the tax assessor's photographic data. Barkey is still searching for good backup data in the computer system that could save some of those photographs.
Barkey and Marchand's job is made more difficult because of "virus kits" found on the Internet. The kits allow people who don't know how to write computer code to produce and even manipulate viruses.
Unfortunately, when those viruses are manipulated with a kit, the anti-virus organizations have a difficult time recognizing them.
Marchand believes the Kournikova virus came from one of those virus kits.
"Our anti-virus software is key in responding to known viruses; any slight variation makes it invisible to the anti-virus software," Marchand said.
"These kits allow (the virus writers) to put a little variation into it."
While prevention is the best medicine for computer viruses, Marchand is prepared to operate.
"We have a few viruses that snuck in but we haven't determined how they got in," Marchand said.
In that case, Marchand isolates the infected computer from the network and then goes into the "bowels of the operating system and removes sections of infected code," he said. "It's surgery, really, using keys."