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January 21st, 2010

Unknown Computer Virus Hits University Of Exeter Network In UK

The University of Exeter in South West of England experienced serious problems with its computer network earlier this week due to a virus outbreak. Systems running Microsoft Windows Vista with Service Pack 2 seem to have been particularly affected by the unnamed malware.

The problems started on Monday when a computer virus was introduced onto the network. “Experience of dealing with data corrupting viruses elsewhere indicates that it is essential to shut down the network ASAP to avoid so many machines and files being corrupted that it takes weeks to recover. Therefore, although this is a PC rather than a network problem, we had to shut down the network to isolate the virus,” announced David Allen, the university’s registrar and deputy chief executive.

The exact name of the virus has not been disclosed, but ZDNet cites insider sources according to which, it exploits the vulnerability described in Microsoft’s MS09-050 Security Bulletin. “This is a completely new virus and we are the only organisation in the world to experience it. None of the mainstream virus software suppliers have seen this virus, and as such, there is no fix,” a leaked internal e-mail from the IT department allegedly reads.

Mr. Allen also pointed out that a security expert had been called on site to assist with the cleaning efforts. Apparently, this malware has only been detected on computers running Windows Vista and the specialized staff plans to check all such systems. This would suggest that the “virus” can spread from one computer to another, which would technically make it a computer worm.

“University campuses are, of course, complex beasts and the IT teams who secure them can have a tough job. The problem is compounded by having a massive userbase of students who may plug their own devices into the network, or may show little care for the security of a communal computer and put it at unnecessary risk,” notes Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at antivirus vendor Sophos.

The network is slowly being brought back online, beginning with buildings that do not use Windows Vista computers. Several services such as Outlook Web Access and the MyExeter Web portal remain functional, but other network-dependent equipment like VoIP telephones or interactive teaching boards are unusable.

The University of Exeter has almost 16,000 students and three campuses, two in Exeter and one in Cornwall. The Cornwall campus is shared with the University College Falmouth and was isolated from the affected network immediately after the threat was discovered.

Credit: News

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