REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 1, 1999 — Microsoft announced today it is working with nine anti-virus companies to provide free anti-virus trial software to businesses and consumers as they prepare their computing environments for the Year 2000. This level of cooperation among leading technology companies indicates a strong commitment to help consumers deal with the threat of viruses, hoaxes or other malicious files during the Year 2000 date transition. While the “Y2K problem” itself is not a virus, increased virus activity is expected around the new millennium.
The Y2K problem often stems from programmers using two digits instead of four to represent years in date-handling calculations. Thus, a computer that is not Y2K-compliant could read 00 as 1900 rather than 2000 and provide unanticipated results. Although the computer industry has expended enormous effort to address Y2K-related issues in advance, even a Y2K-prepared computer is vulnerable to viruses. A lot of evidence suggests that hackers are planning to use Year 2000 as a springboard to disrupting computer environments on a global scale.
The security program Microsoft announced today is yet another resource available to businesses and consumers in Microsoft’s overall effort to help its customers protect themselves against possible problems related to Y2K. To learn more about the new security program, PressPass spoke with Mark Light, Year 2000 product manager at Microsoft.
PressPass: Why are computers more vulnerable to viruses around the new millennium?
Light: We noticed a number of viruses showing up in the name of Y2K as early as last summer. A lot of hackers want the distinction of being the first hacker of the millennium, and this timeframe draws them like no other date. Toward December, we expect to see some hackers sending out trial versions of viruses, hoaxes and malicious files, and then modifying their codes and distributing them on a broader scale sometime during the weeks surrounding January 1.
PressPass: Isn’t the Y2K problem a much bigger threat than viruses?
Light: At this point, we believe viruses in the timeframe surrounding the Y2K date transition have the potential to have as much or more impact as the Y2K problem itself. This is because many companies worldwide have completed the testing and preparation of their computer systems for the Y2K date transition, so the technical issues are largely contained. But viruses that come in at the last minute are a real threat, and those who are not prepared could have their computer systems adversely affected.
PressPass: How will Microsoft’s alliance with these nine anti-virus companies help?
Light: One significant way businesses and consumers can combat Y2K-related viruses, or any virus for that matter, is to install current anti-virus software on their systems and update it regularly. Microsoft is working with 9 leading anti-virus firms-Central Command, Computer Associates International, Data Fellows, Network Associates, Norman ASA, Panda Software, Sophos, Symantec and Trend Micro-to provide free anti-virus software for a 90-day trial period. To help customers find the anti-virus software information for these manufacturers easily, Microsoft has created a Web page at http://www.microsoft.com/y2k/antivirus/AntiVirus.htm that has links to manufacturers participating in this anti-virus software offer. These manufacturers will have the trial software available for downloading from November 1 through December 31. The 90-day trial begins on whatever day you download and install the program.
PressPass: What is Microsoft’s role in this program?
Light: Microsoft is committed to helping provide a safe, secure computing environment for its customers and wants to encourage and enable anti-virus software to be accessible and used by virtually anyone who needs it during this period. We are providing via our Web site the information customers need to know about viruses and the links to anti-virus experts. When customers visit our Web site, they can view their options for downloading anti-virus software in more than 20 different languages. So simply by clicking on the flag that represents their native tongue, they’ll be given information about the various anti-virus programs that support that language.
PressPass: Does Microsoft recommend specific anti-virus programs?
Light: Microsoft doesn’t endorse any specific anti-virus program, but offers links to many different anti-virus software manufacturers. We recommend that customers make their own decisions about which tool has the functionality and the attributes they want.
PressPass: Don’t most people already have anti-virus software installed on their computers?
Light: Many people are either running an outdated version of anti-virus software and corresponding signature file, or perhaps none at all. Some haven’t touched their anti-virus software since it was installed on their system by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). So the protection provided might be years old and ineffective against new viruses. Others never had the software in the first place — not all OEMs and system builders install anti-virus software on all their systems before shipping them. Even if it is included, they may be unprotected from new viruses if they haven’t regularly updated the base program and signature file.
PressPass: Will the anti-virus software available through this program catch all viruses?
Light: Having the software installed and running is half the game — Microsoft and the companies participating in this program want to make it easy for customers to have access to anti-virus protection for their computers. The other half is maintaining the software’s ability to detect recent viruses. Fighting viruses can be a reactionary game. When a new one surfaces, developers must analyze it and produce what’s called a signature for that particular virus. Then the anti-virus companies update their signature files so that the base engine has the information it needs to detect the new virus. Customers must download these signature files periodically to keep their anti-virus program current and effective.
PressPass: How often should customers download signature files to combat Y2K-related viruses?
Light: It depends how much you or your business rely on files from external sources with which you are less familiar. If you perform a lot of downloads via the Internet and you have a lot of sensitive files on your system, you would want to download these signature files weekly, and possibly even daily, as the millennium approaches.
PressPass: Do customers have to pay to download these updates?
Light: Signature files can be downloaded for free from the Web sites of participating anti-virus companies during the 90-day trial period.
PressPass: If consumers are running an outdated version of an anti-virus program, does it make more sense to simply update that version or download an entirely new program through this offering?
Light: It makes sense for people in this situation to explore their options. First they should figure out what they’re running in the way of anti-virus software and determine if that program fits their needs. If it does, they should investigate what it would take to update the program. It might be that it makes more sense to start from scratch and download one of the programs in this offering for the 90-day trial. Both approaches can make sense depending on the factors being weighed.
PressPass: What should customers do if they receive suspicious email messages that the anti-virus software does not catch?
Light: We encourage users to seek the recommendation of the anti-virus firm they choose. Many have an email address that can be used to submit suspicious-looking files. Short of that, most people should consider simply deleting any suspicious email and not running or opening any attachment unless they know who sent the message and that it is authentic.
PressPass: What are the avenues Microsoft uses to distribute Y2K updates or software?
Light: Microsoft does not distribute software via email. Updates and security patches are available on Microsoft’s Year 2000 Web site or on the Microsoft Year 2000 Resource CD ROM. If we do send email to our customers regarding Y2K updates or security patches, it is solely to inform them they are available on the Microsoft download sites.