Computer viruses `poised for ambush' on New Year's Day

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The Independent Online
MILLENNIUM BUG viruses may have infected computers, where they will lie dormant until 1 January, after which they will wreak havoc when the machine is next switched on.

The warning about "millennium bug viruses" has come from a number of companies that write "anti-virus" software. They say they have detected half a dozen such viruses, transmitted via e-mail, and that more may already have been sent.

The viruses affect computers in a number of ways, ranging from wiping all the data on the user's machine, to having no effect at all because of bugs in the virus's own programming.

The viruses are intended to appear to the unwary user to be a "Y2K" or millennium bug problem, by not showing up until the new year. All share the common trait that, on arrival,they do nothing but check the year date on the machine's battery-powered internal clock.

As long as that is not 2000, they will remain dormant. But as soon as the machine is switched on after 1 January the viruses will go to work and deliver their "payload". Viruses are small chunks of computer code, usually spread as files attached to e-mails. When the file is opened the virus copies itself on to the user's machine.

Sal Viveros, group marketing manager for total virus defence at Network Associates, an American anti-virus company, said: "We've actually already seen postings on some of the Usenet [chat] groups [for virus writers and hackers] where they are discussing how to use Y2K to `hose' systems."

David Emm, a product manager at Network Associates in Britain, said the most danger-ous Y2K virus identified so far was called "Mypics", which would disrupt the internal clock after 1 January.

Carey Nachenberg, chief researcher at the Symantec Anti-virus Research Center in Santa Monica, California, said: "It's possible that we could see 200,000 viruses around Y2K."

Some experts think the fears are being hyped, however. "There are viruses which will wipe your hard disk on 1 January, but some will do that on any day of the year," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. "This talk of 200,000 viruses; well, there are 48,000 known viruses in existence. It's asking a lot to expect 152,000 viruses to be written in the next few days. We really aren't expecting a virus deluge."