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Saturday, 1 January, 2000, 06:08 GMT
Y2K viruses alert
The viruses may impact when people return to work
The viruses may impact when people return to work
At least 12 computer viruses set to trigger damage on 1 January, 2000, have been identified - but none are believed to be widespread.

However, experts in Europe and the US are warning that high levels of activity from malicious hackers have been identified. They warn that difficulties could arise when people return to work and turn on their computers, activating the viruses.

"All computer users must take extra precautions during this virus onslaught," said Simon Perry, business manager of security at anti-virus company Computer Associates.

Pierre-Yves Le Bihan, a computer consultant to large French companies said: "These hackers are just dying to do something really spectacular for the year 2000."

On millennium eve in the UK, hackers did manage to disrupt the website of Railtrack, the company that owns the track and signals on Britain's privatised rail network. They left a message on the front page telling travellers that no trains would be running over the New Year period because of Y2K problems.

The site was quickly corrected.

Safety first

Computer viruses are programs smuggled onto computers via e-mail, the World Wide Web or on disks. They are not related to the millennium bug, which may cause computers to fail when they incorrectly read the year 2000 in dates.

Experts are advising people to ensure their anti-virus software is up-to-date and to be especially cautious about opening files attached to e-mails, even if the recipient knows the sender.

One of the most damaging of the Y2K viruses is called Zelu.Trojan. This has the potential to destroy all files on an infected machine.

It pretends to be a fix for the millennium bug and arrives attached to an e-mail as an executable file with the name Y2K.EXE.

Other identified viruses are named Babylonia, Count2K, Lucky 2000, Esmeralda.807 and Spaces.1633.

US virus watchers at the CERT Co-ordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University have all their staff on duty. But its manger Kathleen Fithen said many computers will not be used over the weekend and she expects telephones at the centre to be busier on Monday with reports of trouble.

E-mail hijack

Many viruses now pass themselves on to others by hijacking the e-mail program of an infected computer. A virus can then send itself to friends and colleagues of the computer user by using their e-mail address list.

Consequently, many large organisations, including the FBI, the Swiss Federal Government and some South African banks, have closed their e-mail servers for several days.

However, one expert has questioned this policy.

"The truth is that viruses infect companies every single day of the year - the Y2K period is no different" said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos Anti-Virus.

"If shutting down email systems to prevent the spread of viruses really makes sense then why not shut down your email system 365 days a year?

"It's disappointing to see so many companies falling for Y2K virus hype."

See also:

01 Jan 00 | Science/Nature
01 Jan 00 | Science/Nature
15 Nov 99 | Science/Nature
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