Saturday, October 11, 2003

Computer viruses bedevil Miami University systems

By Jon Gambrell
Enquirer contributor

OXFORD - Computer viruses can spread quickly on a college campus.

Computer problems have been popping up since the current academic year began, when computer worms from the summer were waiting.

"We were fortunately not the first school to come back into session," said Kathy Brinkman, a senior support desk manager in Miami's information technologies services office. "There were strong warnings and a lot of university networks completely crashed when students returned."

Working with students, Miami has stemmed the tide against computer viruses and worms inside their university network, but with new problems each day and online class registration coming in the next few weeks, concerns remain.

Every student on campus has at least one computer, according to Tim Gruenhagen, Miami's data communication and networking manager.

More than 70 megabits per second, nearly 9 million characters, are passed between Miami's network and the Internet per hour, on average. In all of that traffic, the odds of a single computer picking up a worm and virus are extremely high.

Wanting students to patch their Windows-based computers against the Blaster worm and other threats, the university sent an e-mail to students before they arrived and handed out a letter when they received their room keys, reminding them to patch their operating systems against the latest worms.

However, not everyone did that.

"We placed an unpatched computer on our network as a test to see how fast it could get a worm," Brinkman said. "In one minute and 37 seconds, it showed worm activity."

Formerly, worm or virus activity almost always slowed down a computer to the point a user would notice, but now with high-speed processors, they might not be aware, Gruenhagen said.

Sophomore Justin Nigro found that out.

Nigro, a journalism and political science major from Ashtabula, Ohio, found a note on the door of his Flower Hall dorm room from Information Services a few weeks ago, saying that both he and his roommate had computer worms.

"It was news to me," he said. "I thought I had secured my system before I left home."

For two days, Nigro waited for his computer, taken off the network along with 137 other computersfrom Flower and Hepburn Hall residents, to be fixed. During the two days, he had several online projects to complete.

Information Services has begun shutting down individual Internet data jacks. Now, if student computers show signs of a worm or a virus, Brinkman says they will be cut off until they fix the problem.


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