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Viruses Hitting Idle Machines? What the Hack?

November 02, 2000|LAWRENCE J. MAGID |

This column was originally going to be a review of Norton System Works. It still is, sort of. But it's more a tale of woe. Sixteen hours after I installed the software, I'm still trying to get the five computers on my home network back to normal.

Norton System Works didn't cause any problems, but it was the messenger bearing bad news. The software, which costs $59.95, is a bundle of three programs designed to keep PCs healthy. Norton Utilities keeps your system running smoothly and helps recover from system crashes. Norton CleanSweep frees disk space. Norton Anti-Virus finds and eliminates viruses that can damage your PC. After you install the programs, Norton Anti-Virus automatically scans your hard drive for infected files.

And find them it did. There were more than 1,200 infected files on my machine. My son's machine had nearly 1,000, and my wife's machine had more than 700 infected files. Most were infected by the W32/FunLove.4099 virus, but there were others as well.

Although the program can be configured to automatically scan and repair your files, its default configuration is to ask you what to do each time it finds an infected file. That's a great idea, but when there are thousands of infected files, the process can keep you busy for days.

Unfortunately, there is no way to interrupt the program once it starts telling you about infected files. So I had to reconfigure the program to clean infected files on its own. I ran it again and, six hours later, it had detected and repaired the infected files. I repeated the process on the other machines and, by the end of the day, my network was clean. But it was a short-lived victory.

I remembered to go back and reconfigure two of my machines so that Norton Anti-Virus once again would start automatically. That way the system is protected against any new viruses. But I forgot to set it to run automatically on my wife's machine. Later that night, I realized my mistake and ran the software. To my astonishment, there were nearly 100 infected files. How could this be? No one had even used the machine since I cleaned it up.

Then I discovered the culprit. Our network is connected to the Internet via a cable modem, and unless I'm running firewall software to protect the machines, they are vulnerable to hacker attacks. The machine on my desk always runs ZoneAlarm, a free program that shields against invaders, but I wasn't running it on my wife's machine. So she was doubly vulnerable with no firewall to keep hackers from planting viruses and no anti-virus software to keep viruses from doing any damage.

Lest you think I'm paranoid, I checked the ZoneAlarm logs on my machine, and sure enough, they showed that several people had tried to attack mine as well but couldn't get past the firewall.

Fortunately for me, the viruses I contracted didn't cause me to lose data, although they could be responsible for the erratic behavior that I've been noticing lately on my machine.

If after reading this article you have religion about viruses and firewalls, you can do something about it immediately without even having to reach into your wallet, at least not right away. McAfee at offers a clinic service that will scan your hard drive for viruses and lots of other problems. The service costs $29 a year, but you can get a free 10-day trial so you can check and clean your system now and decide later whether to pay for the service. You can also download trial copies of Norton Anti-Virus or McAfee VirusScan by searching for "virus" at

As for my review of the other features of Norton System Works, that will have to wait for another column. Sixteen hours of cleaning up viruses has left me exhausted. I'm going to bed before I wind up coming down with a virus of my own.


Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour.


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