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Chernobyl Virus Infects Asia

The Chernobyl computer virus struck hundreds of thousands of computers in Asia and the Middle East, with Turkey and South Korea each reporting 300,000 computers damaged Tuesday.

The virus, which is believed to have originated in Taiwan and attacks Windows 95 and Windows 98 files, was designed to strike on Monday, the 13th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

In affected computers, the virus attempts to erase the hard-drive and write gibberish into the computer's system settings, called its BIOS, which would prevent the machine from being restarted.

By midday Monday, only 70 computers had been infected in the United States, according to the Computer Emergency Response Team at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Anti-virus programs had been developed to counteract the threat, and most users appeared prepared.

But it was a different story in Asia and the Middle East.

The virus infected some computers at an airport in Izmir, on Turkey's Aegean coast; erased computer memories at a military academy in Ankara; crashed computers at the state-run radio and television station; and slowed down transactions at a number of banks, Turkey's Radikal newspaper reported Tuesday.

"Turkey was caught unprepared," said Mustafa Ucoklar, an electronics engineer. "The warnings were there but nobody took any notice of them."

South Korean officials also reported about 300,000 computers were hit in government offices, schools and businesses.

"We have been careless and lacked an understanding of this virus," said Vice Information and Communications Minister Ahn Byung-yop. "We need to strengthen our alert system and public education on computer viruses."

Ahn estimated the computer bug has hit nearly 4 percent of computers in South Korea, by far the worst attack of its kind reported in the country.

The national Yonhap News Agency, quoting industry officials, estimated the virus may have affected up to 15 percent of all computers and could cost South Korea up to $250 million.

"In the past two days, we had 2,500 calls for help," said Hwang Mi-kyong, a spokeswoman for Ahn's Laboratory Ltd., which develops programs that can detect and wipe out computer viruses.

The company usually receives 200 calls a day for help, she said.

Hundreds of computers in the United Arab Emirates were affected, including some at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the English-language Khaleej Times reported. The Gulf News daily reported that up to 10 percent of all computer users in the Emirates were affected.

Businesses, banks and publishing houses in India were shut down Monday and information worth millions of dollars was lost, the Indian Express newspaper reported. At least 10,000 Indian computer owners reported being affected by the virus.

In Bangladesh, the virus struck at least 10,000 computers. "This was thcountry's worst computer disaster," Ahmed Hasan, general secretary of the Computer Society, said by telephone.

At least 7,600 computers were damaged by the virus in China, state-run media reported. Liu Xu, General Manager of Beijing-based Ruixin Company, China's biggest anti-virus hi-tech company, estimated that 100,000 computers had been affected.

"All of our telephones have been busy since yesterday, jammed by computer users from various sectors and all the provinces," Liu said.

About 2,000 computers in Norway were affected, according to the Aftenposten daily newspaper. "This is definitely the worst virus attack ever," said Jan Kristensen, director of Norman ASA, Norway's largest virus-fighting company.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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