Michelangelo threatens computer havoc

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The Independent Online

Science Correspondent

Before you turn your PC on today, consider a couple of facts: today would be the 521st birthday of Michelangelo, the Renaissance painter, and it is the fifth birthday of Michelangelo, the computer virus that wreaks havoc with hard discs.

If your computer is "infected" with the Michelangelo virus, the hard disc will be wiped clean when you turn it on today. Anyone with an IBM-compatible PC may be at risk, including those running Microsoft's newer operating system, Windows 95.

Users of Apple's Macintosh range are safe, however, as they cannot run programs, or viruses, which were written for IBM machines.

Companies which specialise in anti-virus products and in recovering data from "wiped" computers, are bracing themselves for a flood of calls.

"Our US office got 10 times the daily average of calls in the days before and after 6 March last year," said Caroline Kuipers, international marketing co-ordinator for McAfee, based in Bracknell. "Some were victims of the virus, and some were concerned customers."

The virus first came to notice in 1991, when an estimated 5 million computers were affected worldwide. It spreads between computers by secretly putting a copy of itself onto any floppy disc inserted into the machine. It then lurks in the PC's memory, waiting for the correct date before it triggers itself, with catastrophic results.

Computer viruses are a growing problem, especially for companies whose computers are linked over a network, which allows viruses to spread more easily. They can be downloaded also from the Internet. Market research suggests in 1994 viruses cost British businesses pounds 128m in lost time and revenue.

Alan Solomon, head of S&S International, specialising in anti-virus products, said: "If it's on your computer, it will trigger when you turn it on today.

"The only way to know would be to have run an anti-virus test previously."