Viruses: New Strains, New Solutions

By Hickman, James R. | ABA Banking Journal, January 1995 | Go to article overview

Viruses: New Strains, New Solutions


Hickman, James R., ABA Banking Journal


Modern technology is making our computing lives easier, but it is also providing fertile ground for sowing new strains of viruses. Gateways into networks, shareware software, computer bulletin boards, and the Internet all provide new means of distributing various diabolical strains of viruses that can attack any bank's system, no matter how complex or simplistic it is.

The proliferation of viruses has been made easier by pirate, or unauthorized, bulletin boards. Computer terrorists, like the Bulgarian hacker called "dark avenger," use these pirate boards to provide pranksters with the tools they need to design some of the more insidious forms of viruses.

Tough cases

Some cannot even be detected by stateof-the-art anti-virus software. These "stealth" viruses often attack the antivirus software itself. Others, called "mutation engine" viruses, elude the immune systems and create mutated forms of themselves, multiplying hundreds, even thousands of times. Each new mutated form is different. Even if it's detected, only that particular form can be eradicated. All others must be individually located and killed.

Even those you'd least expect to be vulnerable-computer software companies themselves--are not immune. Lotus Development Corp., for one, was redfaced at a recent conference, when a virus infected and crashed the computer network it was using. In this particular case, the virus functioned like a series of letter bombs. Each time a user opened his or her mail the server crashed.

In some extreme cases, the only solution is to "burn" (in other words, reformat) the infected disks and start over. Reformatting the disks wipes out the virus (unless, of course, it attaches itself to the format program).

The problems don't necessarily stop there. For instance, what if the virus was backed up inadvertently on a backup disk? Unfortunately, you then recover both the virus and the good programs and data. On its appointed date it then comes alive and creates the same problems as before. Since this scenario doesn't even cross most bankers' minds unless they've been "burned" in the past, it is all too common. Such a scenario can give a bank's data processing manager chills.

The best cure

What's the best way for a bank to deal with the virus problem? Prevention. Consider taking the following steps to prevent your bank's operations from being attacked.

Back up data and programs separately. All known computer viruses today attach themselves to programs, not data files. Because of this, be sure to back up data separate from programs. If radical surgery is necessary to remove the virus, then recover only the data. Press the "write-protect" tab on these backup disks to prevent anything from writing on them. Recover programs from original manufacturers' disks. Write-protect these program disks if they are not protected already.

Run an anti-virus program regularly. Additionally, all bank managers should run an anti-virus program on a regular basis, even as frequently as each time you hoot up in the morning. In the aftermath of last year's Michelangelo virus scare, IBM Corp. noted that one positive result of the virus was that significant numbers of companies and individuals bought and installed anti-virus software. As a result, virus infection has dropped dramatically from 1.5 per 1,000 systems each quarter to only 1 per 1,000.

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