Happy new virus

While we’ve all been occupied with the summer holidays and the global economy collapsing like a soufflé, one cunning little virus has been quietly infecting millions of computers around the world.

The Downadup virus may not be the fastest spreading virus we’ve ever seen but its growth is still pretty impressive. When SmartCompany reported on it five days ago, nine million computers were estimated to be infected. Five days later that number has reportedly reached 15 million.

 

Downadup is frustrating and baffling for a number of reasons. The main mystery is what exactly its writers aim to achieve, because at the moment most versions are just multiplying themselves and doing little else.

 

There’s certainly plenty of mischief it could be up to. Reports have included some versions try to guess passwords which can result in users being locked out of their systems or worse, having their passwords stolen.

 

The frustrating part is this virus, or worm, exploits a problem Microsoft fixed last October. So for the large part it is preventable.

 

All computers should be updated to the most recent security patches. While viruses like this are almost totally a Windows phenomenon, there are still serious security holes regularly fixed on other operating systems like the Mac and Linux OS’s.

 

Other operating systems aren’t plagued with viruses like Windows machines because users on the other systems users don’t have root, or administrator, access. This means they can’t change system settings, install unknown software or change critical files.

 

Until recently it was difficult for Windows users to work this way as sloppy programmers and irresponsible vendors put out software that would only run with full access to the machine, which made it simple for viruses and other malware to spread.

 

You should check with your IT support that your staff are logging in as Limited Users. If they aren’t, then found out why.

 

If turns out staff can’t run as Limited Users due to a line of business application causing problems, contact the vendor of that program and make it clear it won’t be part of your business if they can’t provide a safe, secure product.

 

Finally watch your passwords. What’s clear to date is this virus is capable of stealing them. Make sure you and your staff choose secure passwords and change them regularly.

 

I have a rundown on the PC Rescue website on securing your computer which is mainly aimed at home users but it is worthwhile checking the points with your IT support to make sure the business equivalent tasks have been done.

 

You should also take a copy home to check your private computers are safe as many of these viruses prey on household users looking for free music and videos. In fact one group of malware writers are currently trying to spread Mac viruses using this method.

 

The Downadup virus is the first round of what’s going to be an interesting year in the IT and security sectors so enjoy the ride and make sure your home or business computers won’t be part of a headline.

Paul Wallbank speaks and writes on how business owners can meet the challenges of the new economy. A business owner himself, Paul has spent over 15 years helping businesses achieve their potential. He has two computer advice websites; PC Rescue and IT Queries, and appears monthly on ABC Local Radio’s Nightlife program and Sydney 702 weekends.

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