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Chernobyl Virus Proves Destructive

April 28, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ If only the world had learned more from Melissa.

Experts say the world’s latest computer headache, a virus called Chernobyl, took advantage of hundreds of thousands of computers left vulnerable despite the lessons learned from Melissa, the e-mail scourge that struck last month.

Fewer than 10,000 out of 50 million computers in the United States were hit Monday by the virus timed to coincide with the 13th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, said Roger Thompson of the International Computer Security Association.

But overseas, especially in Asia and the Middle East, the virus erased hard drives and prevented scores of computers from operating. Turkey and South Korea each reported 300,000 computers damaged Monday.

``I think it’s the most destructive virus that’s ever been reported,″ Thompson said Tuesday. ``And it could have been a lot worse.″

The virus is believed to have originated in Taiwan and attacks Windows 95 and Windows 98 computers. A company unknowingly distributed software infected with the virus over the Internet. When the software was downloaded, computer users infected other files on their hard drive. If an infected program was sent in an e-mail, the virus was passed on to the recipient.

There are a number of variants of the Chernobyl virus, with some designed to trigger every month on the 26th while others trigger annually on April 26, according to the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Chernobyl had been known to be lurking since last summer, and the major antivirus software programs were able to protect against it.

Also, the Melissa virus last month served as a ``very effective wake-up call″ in the United States, where many corporations updated their software to guard against infection, said Dan Schrader of Trend Micro Inc., an antivirus manufacturer.

``Elsewhere it wasn’t taken as seriously,″ he said.

The countries hardest hit were those with a large amount of pirated software and comparatively little use of the latest antivirus programming, Schrader said.

In India, at least 10,000 computer owners reported being infected. Businesses, banks and publishing houses in India were shut down and information worth millions of dollars was lost, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

Local media reported that up to 10 percent of all computer users in the United Arab Emirates were affected; at least 10,000 computers were struck in Bangladesh; reports in China varied from 7,600 computers damaged to 100,000.

``We have been careless and lacked an understanding of this virus,″ said Ahn Byung-yop, vice minister of information and communications in South Korea. ``We need to strengthen our alert system and public education on computer viruses.″

In the United States, students and home computer users who hadn’t installed antivirus software were hit the hardest. About 100 Princeton students said their computers were wiped out just two weeks before term papers were due.

``The computers were affected to a point where the hard drives were rendered useless,″ said Princeton spokesman Justin Harmon.

Several hundred computers at Virginia Tech also were struck, destroying some hard drives, said Mike Moyer, a programmer in Tech’s computer center.

``We’re going to be much more vehement about pushing the antivirus software this fall,″ Moyer said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Bill Pollak of the Computer Emergency Response Team at Carnegie Mellon said 2,328 computers were reported damaged in the United States. Because there is no reporting requirement, the actual number could be higher.

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