'VIRUS' PROGRAM DISRUPTS SUNYA COMPUTER SYSTEM

Jay Jochnowitz Staff writer
Section: LOCAL,  Page: B2

Date: Thursday, April 21, 1988

A State University at Albany computer expert is pressing for what might be the first prosecution of its kind against a student who introduced a "virus" into the school's computer system. While the incident did not damage the system, Stephen Rogowski, director of microcomputer acquisition and development for SUNYA, said that such viruses have become a new and potentially severe form of computer vandalism, and "should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."


Albany County District Attorney Sol Greenberg said he would be willing to consider prosecution in a computer case if Rogowski filed charges. Computer "viruses," relatively new forms of high-tech mischief, are secret programs designed to attach themselves to other programs and do things the original programs were not intended to do. Reported incidents in the United States and abroad have ranged from messages that pop up unexpectedly to destruction of information.


SUNYA officials would not identify the student involved and would give only a few specifics on the "virus," which was transferred when students shared programs on floppy discs. Patricia Panzle, director of SUNYA User Services, part of the university's Computer Center, said the virus replicated itself and, while it did not destroy computer programs or memory in the widely used system, was "disruptive."


Alice Corbin, judicial director for SUNYA Student Affairs, said charges are being prepared against the student, who will be brought before the school's Committee on Student Conduct. Possible charges include academic dishonesty, misuse of university services or facilities, and disruption of education or destruction of material. Penalities could range from a reprimand to dismissal, Corbin said.


However, Rogowski said the case should go to court as a signal that computer tampering is not permissible and potentially destructive. He said he did not know what criminal charges could be brought.


Because computers are used in medicine, for example, a prank could involve much more than the loss of data, he said.


"If that particular part of the computer is controlling something important - like a kidney dialysis machine - it can do a great deal of harm," he said.


While SUNYA computers do not have that potential, the university is linked to outside computers, which were not damaged by the prank.


Development of the virus does take some computer expertise, said Rogowski, but the virus can be introduced to a system or program by anyone with average training and, in his view, "a defective moral gene."