Protect PCs from Apr. 1 Conficker virus

LOS ANGELES The computer worm is called Conficker -- or the "down and up" worm -- and it has been hanging around in different forms for some time just waiting to attack. It was supposed to rear its ugly head on April 1, but don't be fooled into thinking this virus is a joke. It can do some real damage to your computer and steal your files.

As of Wednesday, the worst fears have not come true. Some experts say it may be because computer users prepared so well, that the virus didn't have the catastrophic effect many had anticipated.

The Conficker virus has been linked to a sleeper cell that is now infecting more than 3 million computers worldwide. The virus was programmed to wake up on April 1 to infect systems.

"Absolutely could install a keystroke logger and monitor all of your keystrokes, sending that information to the 'bot herders' or the criminals out there," said Marian Merritt, Internet safety advocate, Symantec. "Once they have that information, you're in a whole host of trouble."

Symantec is the company that makes Norton AntiVirus software. Merritt's staff has been keeping an eye on the "down and up" worm for a while.

The worm could launch attacks to disrupt Web sites or steal information from your computer, such as personal information about your bank account and credit cards.

One of the big problems is that you may have the virus and not even know it. The best way to check is to try to access a site that sells security software.

"If you can get to one of those Internet sites, then you know you're not infected," said Dallas Harmon, a computer expert. "That's one of the first things it does is it disables your ability to get to the security sites."

Experts say if you have the virus, then you should shut down your computer immediately and get help.

If you find out that your computer is contaminated by the Conficker worm you can also go to the Microsoft Web site and download a free malicious-software-removal tool.

In addition, Staples is offering free PC tune-ups at retail stores across the nation through July.

As for Mac users, it appears the MAC Operating System is not vulnerable to the Conficker virus. However some Mac users use a dual-platform with a Mac and PC, and that could still be vulnerable.

Security analysts have been tracking the virus but haven't been able to neutralize it, or figure out who is behind it.


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