A massive computer virus has spread across the internet, infecting computers worldwide and even managing to bring down the computer system of New Zealand’s Ministry of Health.
The virus, known as the “Conficker” or “Downadup” worm, has infected more than nine million computers and is spreading at a rate of one million computers a day.
Anthony Edwards, technical support manager at TrendMicro Australia, stops short of calling it the world’s biggest virus but concedes it is growing rapidly.
“It is one of the biggest ones we have seen for quite a while. In terms of the biggest ever, I’m not sure I’d go that far. But it is quite big.”
The virus can potentially break a computer password, change it and lock a user out of their own device. And while the virus has not yet caused much damage to infected computers, several computer experts are worried it may lie dormant until its real effects are noticeable.
The virus is likely a type of malware, or “malicious software”. It works by disguising itself as a folder and prompts the computer user to open it – the worm is then installed.
The worm is currently causing excess traffic, spreading itself across networks and sucking up bandwidth. The worm can also spread from USB sticks transferred from computer to computer.
F-Secure chief research officer Mikko Hypponen writes in a blog post that the worm is using a clever way of moving across the internet.
“It uses a complicated algorithm, which changes daily and is based on timestamps from public websites such as Google.com and Baidu.com. This makes it impossible and/or impractical for us good guys to shut them all down — most of them are never registered in the first place.
“However, the bad guys only need to predetermine one possible domain for tomorrow, register it, and set up a website — and they then gain access to all of the infected machines.”
Edwards says despite the danger, computer users can take practical steps to protect their machines.
“First and foremost – make sure you’re patched up with latest Microsoft patches. Obviously, make sure you have up-to-date anti-virus protection. Make sure you’re updating the latest updates and so on. And then it just comes down to just having good security policies in terms of controlling.
“Do not share USB sticks around, don’t download unusual things, be wary about what you’re plugging into and always check to see if a machine is infected.”