Computer Viruses

This is Mary Tillotson. And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Computer viruses are harmful computer programs that can destroy information on a computer or cause the computer to stop. Today we tell about a recent virus attack and how you can protect your computer from such attacks.

The Internet communications system permits millions of computer users around the world to link together for business and enjoyment. Private citizens, businesses and governments use the Internet. Anyone using the Internet can find information about many different subjects in many different languages in only a few minutes.

The Internet is the fastest, most modern and best communications tool ever invented. However, the Internet also makes it possible for one person to damage or slow thousands of computers that are linked to it. They can do this by writing computer instructions that cause damage. Or they make the computer fill itself with so much useless information that it stops working.

On January twenty-fourth, a kind of computer virus called a "worm" was released to infect the Internet. A worm is a computer instruction that makes copies of itself and sends copies to other computers.

This worm sent copies of itself to computers across the Internet. The worm temporarily damaged millions of computers around the world. It slowed large groups of computers called networks.

For example, one large American banking company had to close about thirteen-thousand of its money machines. People could no longer get their money from the bank's machines using their plastic cards.

A major international airline could not sell tickets using the Internet because the worm made its computers fail. Emergency service workers in the western American City of Seattle, Washington could not answer emergency calls because the worm caused their computers to fail.

Computer experts named the worm "W-Thirty-Two-Slammer." They said the worm caused a problem for the Internet that was similar to when there are too many cars on a road in a large city. This kind of vehicle problem is called a traffic jam. The Slammer worm caused an information jam.

The experts believe the worm was first released in Asia. An American computer expert said evidence seemed to show the virus first appeared in Hong Kong. A government computer team in Hong Kong is working to find who released the new virus.

South Korea may have been the worst affected nation in the January twenty-fourth attack. On January twenty-seventh, a spokesman for South Korea's Information and Communication Ministry said computer communications on the Internet were almost back to normal. The ministry also said experts were working to find where the computer virus came from.

Computer experts in China and Taiwan also reported problems with the worm. Computers in Japan suffered some problems. But they were mostly limited to some schools and companies.

By the morning of January twenty-eighth, computer experts around the world had stopped the worm or made their computer systems safe against the Slammer. Experts believe the worm cost computer networks many millions of dollars in delays, lost business, and the loss of work usually done on a computer.

The person who wrote the instructions that created the Slammer worm attacked computers that use the Microsoft computer system. Microsoft quickly provided the necessary computer instructions to make its system safe and prevent the Slammer worm from attacking other computers.

The kind of program that made the Microsoft system safe is called a "patch" or "update." Microsoft says it wants to improve the speed of future updates or patches for computer users linked to the Internet.

Computer experts say the Internet has become extremely important every day in every area of the world. They say businesses, local governments and private citizens everywhere are using the Internet as an important part of their business or daily life. The experts say some businesses could no longer exist without the Internet. However, many businesses, local governments and private citizens have failed to learn how to protect their computers from viruses or worm attacks.


Sophos P-L-C is a computer company in Britain that makes programs that protect computers against viruses and worms. It is the fourth largest anti-virus company.

Recently, Sophos company officials warned computer users against many new viruses and worms. The officials said recent evidence shows that some people are working hard to make illegal computer programs. The Sophos company said this in a newspaper report printed in Singapore on January fourteenth, only ten days before the Slammer worm attack.

Graham Cluley is a computer expert with the Sophos company. He says computer security companies expect more viruses and worms this year. He says virus writers want to create the next super virus or worm. These can be easily spread by electronic mail or from a computer communications method called Instant Messaging. Mr. Cluley said this kind of virus or worm causes the greatest problems.

The Sophos Company experts say about eighty-thousand computer viruses are now known to exist. The experts say about six-hundred new computer viruses are released into the Internet each month.

Mr. Cluley says nine of last year's ten most damaging viruses were spread by electronic mail to computers that use Microsoft Windows as their operating system.

A company called F-Secure also makes computer security programs. Its experts say new kinds of computer attacks will be aimed at damaging millions of computers very quickly. This kind of attack is called a "flash worm." It would be able to infect millions of computers in less than fifteen minutes. An F-Secure company computer expert says it is just a matter of time before someone tries to infect the Internet with such a program.

Computer experts say many private citizens, businesses and local governments are not concerned about computer security until they suffer a damaging attack. Such an attack can cost computer users a great deal of money in lost business, lost information or damaged computer equipment. They say the attack can be more costly than providing good communications security.

The experts say that using a computer anti-virus program is the first step in protecting a business or private computer. An anti-virus program searches the computer for, and guards against, viruses. It also inspects incoming e-mail and new programs for viruses.

The experts say that many good computer companies produce anti-virus protection programs. Most companies that offer anti-virus programs also provide new information called "updates" to protect against new viruses or worms as they appear.

An American company called McAfee Security produces a popular anti-virus protection program. Company officials say a good anti-virus program is only the first step in computer security. The company lists a number of things computer users can also do to help protect their computers.

For example, do not open any file attached to electronic mail if it comes from an unknown person or place. Delete electronic mail from unknown people. Make copies of all important documents and keep them in a safe place. This should be done often to protect valuable information.

Computer experts agree that everyone should refuse computer information from strangers. They also agree that users must be extremely careful when copying any kind of information from the Internet to their computer's memory. All experts agree that doing these things is better than suffering a virus or worm attack.

The Internet is fun, educational and a great business tool. But because of computer virus attacks, safety is extremely important.

This program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS, a program in Special English on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

Source: EXPLORATIONS - February 5, 2003: Computer Viruses
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