On the first day, the computer help desk at AU received hundreds of calls about the Blaster virus, according to the Help Desk Manager Sean Stockburger.
The virus was released on Aug. 11. On Aug.18, students began moving back on campus and began flooding the phones again.
“We had so much traffic from viruses running around over the weekend that the system would just shut down,” Stockburger said. “There were only six people at the help desk. Fourteen people in the field doing on-site support and network security trying to access all the routers to block the ports the virus was using.”
The Blaster virus is a worm that travels through computer networks causing computers using the Windows 2000 and XP operating systems to reboot. The original Blaster virus had a message to Bill Gates blaming him for allowing viruses like this to happen.
Hopkins, Minn., high school senior Jeffrey Parson, 18, has been charged with modifying a version of the worm that crippled computers worldwide.
Because the virus moved through computer networks instead of e-mail, many people did not realize that they had the virus until their computers started rebooting.
Sophomore Heather Ann Blandford received the virus as soon as she plugged her computer in.
“My computer was hit hard once I turned it on, so I knew that I had the bug,” Blandford said. “My computer was problematic before and I became very frustrated once the worm started in as well. I tried many different options to solve it, and nothing really helped.”
After her roommate informed her that she probably had Blaster, Blandford went to the e-operations desk to seek help. Blandford’s computer problem was especially exasperating, she said, because her computer rebooted too fast for her to download the patch.
“In the midst of moving into the dorms and preparing for school, not having a functioning computer was difficult,” Blandford said.
On average it took 20 to 45 minutes to completely remove Blaster from a computer, according to Stockburger. He estimated that e-operations spent more than three full days trying to keep AU’s computer systems running.
“A lot of people fixed the virus themselves though,” Stockburger said.
The media also helped combat the virus because people knew about the virus from the news and how to repair their own computers, according to Stockburger.
“As people were on hold they were listening to WAMU, which was talking about the virus,” Stockburger said. “I got on the phone with a woman and she was like, ‘I got the Blaster virus!’”
To inform people about the virus, e-operations posted flyers around campus about how to patch against it, placed brochures on residence hall front desks and on the main Quad during Welcome Week, posted a warning on my.american and distributed CD-ROMs with antivirus software and the patch.
Because the virus was so widespread people could not access Microsoft and Symantec, a company that provides patches for various anti-virus systems-Web sites to download a patch for their computers-according to Stockburger. AU set up a private Web site for people to download the patch from.
“At one point on a Google search for Blaster, American University’s was fifth Web site to come up,” Stockburger said.
Not everyone used the patch, however.
Freshman Patrick Ambrosio also had Blaster when he turned his computer on.
“I had heard about it from the my.american Web site, but I didn’t really think anything of it,” Ambrosio said. “I figured that anti-virus wouldtake care of it.”
Ambrosio also found out from his roommate that he had Blaster. The two of them managed to wipe the virus from his computer together.
Sophomore Christopher Kosek repaired his own computer. He had heard about the virus before he came to AU, but had not had problems with it before he plugged his computer into the network.
“I don’t think I’ve met someone who didn’t get it, at least, Windows users,” Kosek said. “It was very widespread but not nearly as dangerous as some of the others that have come out.”
Stockburger agreed that the one good thing about Blaster was that it did not do lasting harm to people’s computers.
“It would be just as easy for someone to write a more destructive virus,” Stockburger said. “The virus gives people a quick realization that especially because they’re on a college campus they need to have anti-virus software and do critical updates.”
Self-titled computer geek Tim Clem does not think a lot of people will actually continue to update their anti-virus computer software
“I think people are afraid to use auto-update because of pirated software,” Clem said.
Clem often fixes two to three people’s computers a day, he said, because he’s “into it.”
“I’m kind of nosy,” Clem said. “If people are like, ‘Oh my god, I have a computer problem,’ I tend to walk in and see if I can help. I think people find me more than I find them.”
Some people feel that viruses can be helpful by making people more aware of network insecurities.
Ambrosio said that he felt that this virus will help other companies realize that they need to fix patches in their programming.
“Sure it’s a big pain, but it prevents a problem in the future,” Ambrosio said. “It can help companies know what to fix.”
Blandford agreed that Blaster sent Microsoft a message, but felt that the virus was more of a nuisance.
Kosek does not believe that viruses have a use.
“Viruses are a case of trying to show that there’s a problem in the dam by blowing it up,” Kosek said. “You proved your point, but where did it get you if the dam was destroyed and now you have a flood on your hands?”