MOSCOW -- The Soviet Union said Sunday so-called computer viruses have invaded systems in at least five government-run institutions since August, but scientists claim they have developed a way to detect known viruses and prevent serious damage.
Sergei Abramov, a computer specialist with the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, told Radio Moscow the first computer virus in the Soviet Union was found last August at the academy's Institute of Program Systems.
The virus, dubbed DOS-62 for Disc Operational System 62, infected 80 computers at the academy before it was brought under control 18 hours later, he said.
The virus was traced to a group of Soviet and foreign school children involved in a computer studies 'summer camp' at the institute. Abramov said it was believed the virus was introduced when Soviet students used the institute's computers to copy infected application programs and computer games for personal computers.
He did not say which countries the foreign students came from.
'Here in the Soviet Union there was not a single instance of a computer virus attack until August of this year but now at least two different viruses have been encountered by five different institutions,' Radio Moscow quoted Abramov as saying.
The five institutions were not identified by Abramov and he did not give any estimate of the damage done by the viruses. It was not known if the viruses had infected any Soviet computers connected to Western European data banks.
A computer virus is a programed set of damaging instructions planted in a computer that is designed to reproduce itself rapidly and spread, much like a biological virus. Computers often pick up the virus through telephone links to 'infected' machines.
The effects of the virus can range from a complete loss of programs and memory in the host computer or the annoying appearance of a message on the computer screen that can disrupt routine work but not affect memory.
Last November a computer virus infected a data network known as Arpanet linked to the U.S. Defense Department, causing millions of dollars in damage and lost computer time before it was stopped.
Abramov said there was concern about the possibility of a similar incident in the Soviet Union and the Academy of Sciences placed a high priority on finding a defense for what he said were the 15 known computer virus strains in the world.
He said a team headed by him has now been successful in finding such a shield.
'This protective system has no counterpart in the world,' he said. Details remain a state secret but Abramov said the defense is known formally as PC-Shield and has been tested on IBM computers in the Soviet Union.
'The system provides early warning of an attack bypratically any virus known in the world,' he said. 'It has a two-tiered system of protection. The first tier warns the user of an attack enabling him to stop the computer. The second tier assures the detection of any virus still unknown as well as known and prevents it from speading.'
Abramov said the discovery of viruses in the computer banks of five government instutitions has triggered an outcry for the introduction of a law against 'computer terrorism' in the Soviet Union.
At present no such legislation exists, but one such case has been brought to court. Earlier this year an unidentified programer at the Gorky Automobile Works on the Volga river was charged with deliberately using a virus to shut down an assembly line in a dispute over work conditions.
Radio Moscow said the man was convicted under Article 206, the so-called Hooliganism law, which provides for a jail term of up to six years for 'violating public order in a coarse manner and expressing a clear disrespect toward society.'
The Soviet Union has admitted that it trails the West badly in the production and sophistication of much of its computer hardware and software.
According to official statsitics there are only 150,000 personal computers on line in the Soviet Union and most of those are in government hands. Most of the computers are imported.
The shortage is so acute that many students who take the now-mandatory computer literacy course in grammer school never get to use a terminal until they reach a university.