Y2K: a good time for virus protection

Anticipating an outbreak of Y2K-related viruses, Microsoft has encouraged nine software vendors to offer free trial versions of their antivirus programs. These full-working versions will be available for download until December 31, and are good for 90 days after installation.

What's the connection between Y2K and viruses, aside from a capacity to wreak havoc? The fear that computers and software will fail when the century changes offers a temptation that few virus writers can resist. After all, people in a panic are more likely to make foolish mistakes. Besides, virus writers want to generate fear, and with Y2K, they're halfway there already.

The little demons are already cropping up -- albeit not in large numbers. Consider the Y2K-Count Trojan Horse, also known as Troj.Polyglot. First detected in September, Y2K-Count arrives on people's PCs as an attachment to an e-mail message that appears to come from Microsoft support. The accompanying message encourages receivers to run this "Microsoft Year 2000 counter". When they do, their system becomes infected.

The vendors offering free virus protection are Central Command, Computer Associates, Data Fellows, Network Associates, Norman ASA, Panda Software, Sophos, Symantec and Trend Micro. The products include such popular titles as Norton Anti-Virus, McAfee VirusScan, and PC-cillin. For the 90-day period, at least, these are all full-working antivirus programs.

One of the nine, Trend Micro, is also introducing another free Y2K feature, its Y2K Virus Watch Web site. The site includes both virus-specific and general Y2K information, including a "Truth vs. Hype" page and another titled "What You Can Do".

Of course, much of the site is geared towards fighting viruses, even when it's supposed to be discussing Y2K in general. For instance, the Truth vs. Hype page tells us that "Whether or not these will be major problems will depend on the ease and speed of the repair. This is the same scenario that corporations face with respect to their antivirus needs".

Anyone with a PC and Internet access needs virus protection. Whether or not Y2K increases that need, now is a good time to get it.