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Even casual contact between today's sophisticated computers and networks can breed destructive virus problems, causing industry leaders like Novell Inc. to take the situation very seriously.

"We've moved away from the paper world to the electronic world, with computers reaching into more places than ever and networked further than ever before. Computers in companies in all parts of the world can talk to one another."Unfortunately, that also opens it all up, makes them vulnerable to a variety of viruses and attacks," said Scott Wells, product line manager for NetWare Services with Novell.

"We've always known it could be a problem," said Cindee Nielsen, disk master coordinator for WordPerfect, the Novell Applications Group.

That's why the new product programs at WordPerfect's manufacturing division are sent through on an electronic file and compressed to close air spaces that would allow a virus to attach itself.

The programs go to a "clean machine" that is independent of every other computer and not hooked to a printer or modem.

It sends to a clean file server. Only a select few have authorization to use the clean machines.

"We have come a long way," said Nielsen. "Several years ago, we were still getting hard copies but it's been two years since we actually used them. And then we were constantly scanning the disks for viruses."

That hasn't stopped, but on the clean system, Nielsen said, it's impossible for an infection to occur.

"I would have no problem guaranteeing a WordPerfect product to a customer. A WordPerfect product can't go out with a virus," she said.

Novell security personnel say the real guarantees will come with increased use of encryption and digital signatures on data files.

"Right now, viruses can be spread in any of the same ways information can be transmitted onto a computer," said Wells.

But a digital signature will act much like a seal on a registered letter. The data packet could not be corrupted without the tampering being evident, said Wells.

Encrypting will involve coding in the date by the author that will protect it until someone with the other half of the code receives it.

"At some point, viruses will not be a problem," said Wells. "But today we're not there."

Wells suggested people worried about their equipment being infected or their data resources corrupted should try physically protecting it first.

"The number one rule, lock it up," said Wells. "Physically secure your server or main frame console."

Back up crucial programs and data. And don't share your pass-word.

Purchase auditing programs and virus screens.

"It's interesting that people will invest a couple of thousand (dollars) in a computer and then hesitate to spend a couple hundred more for virus protection," said Wells.

"We, as an industry, rely primarily for virus protection on our third-party partners. And we do have a very extensive process to en-sure products we ship are virus-free."


Additional Information

Epidemic of viruses floating around

A few types of viruses floating about:

- "Drip" - the letters begin to cascade in a heap at the bottom of your screen.

- "Pong" - a small bit crosses the screen in a Ping-Pong ball fashion, striking out letters at random.

- "Stoned" - the computer's reactions slow down and stop.

- "Jiggles" - a naked lady unexpectedly appears to dance on the screen as you work.

- "Ghostwriter" - a message left by the joker will greet you as you begin work.

- "Billboard" - the message left by the joker is mega-size.

- "Alphabet Soup" - letters typed appear at odd places about the screen, not in a recognizable or useful order.

- "Happy Hacker II" - the screen is filled with suggestive lines.

- "Accelerator" - the screen takes off on a collision course with a wall.

- "Alarming" - the computer is programmed to flash a warning message and send off a siren at the first sign of an entry.

- "Are you sure?" - files are erased or deleted.

- "April" - the computer, thinking the screen is upside-down, turns it over.