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Friday the 13th Viruses Sicken Some Computers

October 14, 1989

Undated (AP) _ The Friday the 13th computer virus turned out to be something less than an epidemic, but one computer expert said today that public fascination with the quirky ailment may heighten interest in computer security.

Reports so far indicated infections at 75 sites worldwide by a pair of viruses designed to strike Friday the 13th, said Wes Thomas, editor of an electronic newsletter called Virus Alert. Those 75 sites, mostly businesses and universities, account for hundreds of computers, he said.

Thomas, who set up a command center in San Francisco to coordinate reports of the viruses and the response, said he hadn’t heard of any serious damage done, but said corporate computer managers were close-mouthed about data loss.

″People don’t want to admit that,″ Thomas said after a night of monitoring calls.

″It’s obviously not a massive infestation,″ Thomas said, adding that most of the reported cases had yet to be checked by experts.

Viruses are malicious programs written by techno-vandals. The bugs are spread by unknowing users through infected computer disks or contaminated programs drawn from telephone bulletin boards or computer networks. They can sap computing power, fill up storage space, devour files or make information impossible to get.

In Britain, the Royal National Institution for the Blind reported a computer malfuction that was most likely caused by a virus, according to Bernard Fleming, community education officer.

″We found that most of our program files are gone. Every time we try to look at a new program file it vanishes in front of our eyes,″ said Corri Barrett of the institute in London. ″It’s horrendous. Months and months of work has been wiped out here.″

In Switzerland, Bernhard Schmid, head of the federal personal computer team, said several dozen of the government’s 3,500 personal computers were found to have been carrying a virus but experts managed to cancel and reprogram all the infected ones.

A virus was detected earlier in the week in personal computers at Mobil Corp. offices in Tyler, Texas, and Houston, said Gale Maynor, who runs the company’s computer support services in Dallas.

The bug erupted early because managers advanced their computers’ clocks to smoke it out, she said. Vital data was duplicated in advance, she said.

To Thomas, the non-epidemic may have the unexpected benefit of raising computer users’ awareness of the possibility of a virus.

″There are a number of viruses and they could hit at any time,″ he said. ″The trouble is there are not a lot of people trained to recognize this.″

His advice to users who notice their machines acting strangely is to shut the computer off and call an expert to diagnose the problem.

About 30 viruses are known to exist. They are often triggered by computers’ internal calendars, and Friday the 13th is a favorite target date.

A virus known as Datacrime or the Columbus Day virus was supposed to be activated on the 13th. It erases a computer’s ″track zero,″ the part of the memory the machine uses to locate files.

Another that has been around for some time, called the Jerusalem, the Israeli or the PLO virus, kicks in Friday the 13th. Its action is described by various computer experts as destroying files or expanding applications programs, causing them to malfunction.

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