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Campus Computing News

By Dr. Maurice Leatherbury, Senior Director of Academic Computing

It's a Dangerous World Out There:
Computing Security on Campus

Security is on all our minds these days because of the recent horrific incidents in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. While not a physical threat to our safety, computing security is a large and growing concern here on campus as well as over the entire Internet. I'd like to explore some of the responsibilities each of us has to protect ourselves, the campus, and the rest of the world from dangerous activity reaching and/or emanating from our computers.

By now, everyone is sensitive to the threats from viruses that usually are transmitted via E-mail. You may recall that we had to shut our GroupWise E-mail system for a day or more (depending upon your department) last year because the "I love you" virus threatened to infect our desktop systems and thus delete needed files from various computers on campus. That incident led the Computing Center to institute a "scanning engine" that blocks known viruses from entering or leaving our GroupWise mail system. You may have seen messages from that system telling you that someone had tried to send you an infected file: a message is also sent to the sender of the virus telling him/her that the message wasn't allowed through our filters.

Virus threats continue to mount

Even more insidious threats than "I love you" have been appearing on campus, these in the form of "worms" that are transmitted by other computers that probe our systems for vulnerabilities, exploit those vulnerabilities, and attach themselves to campus computers. They then proceed to scan the campus and indeed the whole world for yet more exposed systems. Just this week, the "Nimda" (admin spelled backwards, interestingly enough) worm infected more than a dozen systems on campus. Each affected system had to be shut down and extensive repairs instituted, sometimes requiring completely wiping out the disk and reinstalling the operating system and applications. Some heavily used systems, including a Library Web server, were caught by Nimda and were out of service for several days.

UNT's system administrators are vigilant about protecting their systems, but recent worms and viruses have appeared with such suddenness that there isn't time to react and thus apply needed patches to operating systems. Nimda, for example, took less than half a day to spread throughout the Internet and the virus protection industry didn't have fixes for it until late in the day on Monday (we were infected on Monday morning.) Even today (a Friday,) there is still some question whether we really know the full extent of the damage that Nimda inflicted on systems that it managed to infect.

What is your responsibility?

What is your responsibility, as a user of computers on campus, to help prevent the spread of viruses and worms?  First and foremost, be sure that you're using virus scanning software on your computer. Usually your system administrator will install such software (McAfee VirusScan) on your system and will either set it up to update the virus definitions regularly or will instruct you on how to do that. DON'T disable that software. Even though E-mail viruses are usually caught before reaching you, it's still possible for you to get diskettes with viruses, or for you to download infected files from the Internet, or even to get infected by simply using an old version of Internet Explorer to surf the Web. The virus protection software that is provided to you will prevent most of the problems that are likely to occur.

If you are a "power user" and are running your own server (a Windows NT server running Internet Information Server for example,) you have special responsibilities, because those systems are more prone to attacks and to serving as springboards for additional attacks on other systems on the Internet. Properly managing those servers requires daily reading of virus warnings and promptly patching your server to prevent known vulnerabilities from being exploited.

The Computing Center is strengthening its computing security staff and will soon be providing additional assistance to system administrators as well as end users on protecting their systems. In the meantime, I'll quote from the old Hill Street Blues sergeant: "Y'all be careful out there."

How do I get help with Virus Protection Off-Campus?

As mentioned in the article above, here at UNT, the Network Managers are generally responsible for keeping the people in their departments informed about anti-virus issues and updates. If you're unsure about the status of such software on your computer, however, you probably ought to contact your Network Manager and ask. If you're not sure who your Network Manager is, check here

UNT's Anti-Virus Website ( ), is accessible to anyone on campus or who comes into campus via the UNT dial-up lines. If you satisfy those requirements, the anti-viral software is available to you from there free-of-charge.[You can find the files you need at also]

Once you have the software it is wise to set it to run every time your computer is re-started (you can always cancel it if you have to re-start several times). You should also set it to automatically update. In fact, if you are using McAfee, there is a new tutorial on UNT's anti-virus site to help you configure the autoupgrade feature. The tutorial is available here:

If you don't satisfy those conditions, you should definately look into getting some virus protection-software for your home computer(s). Most products allow a free-trial period so you can get temporary protection while you decide what product to buy. maintains a list of anti-virus software vendors, and is as good a place as any to start the search to find the right product to meet your needs.

Please remember, it does you - and the campus- no good if your computer on campus has virus protection software running on it but your machine at home doesn't. Your home machine could become a continuing source of viral attacks on the campus, causing problems for everyone, including yourself. -- Ed.