Virus Shuts Down Dell's Irish PC Plant
A little acid-indigestion-inducing food for thought as we merrily hurtle toward Y2K: Dell Computer's (www.dell.com) plant in Limerick, Ireland, was recently forced to shut down operations for two days after its production systems were infected with the so-called "FunLove" virus. Consequently, a substantial product recall is now under way.
Production systems are among the most vulnerable Y2K targets, many technology gurus have warned. In that light, what happened to Dell isn't exactly reassuring - particularly when you take into account that this was a PC factory, which, presumably, would not only have some of the best virus-detection systems extant, but would also be installing that protection in their PCs.
Dell's plant in Ireland had to shut down after plant managers discovered the FunLove virus in the system that's used to load software into desktop and laptop computers that are made in the Limerick plant. Dell has recalled the 12,000 units that company officials say could have possibly been infected by FunLove.
Dell hasn't yet publicly announced the financial loss its anticipates from the FunLove raid. It may run as high as US$18.43 million, at least according to The Irish Times (www.ireland.com). A Dell spokeswoman, however, calls that figure "wildly exaggerated. . . . Everything is back to normal," she added.
Thus far, Dell has found no viruses in the computers it has recalled, the spokeswoman says. Dell plans to make up the lost production time, she asserts. The method for making up for the production that the computer virus halted, however, hasn't yet been disclosed. (Do we hear the distant strains of those magic, cash-register-ringing words "overtime work"?)
According to computer virus experts, the FunLove virus infects both desktop and computer servers that run Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT operating systems. The virus uses what appears to be a new strategy to attack the Windows NT5 security system, they say.
But those virus gurus don't see the FunLove virus as all that formidable - which makes the fact that it penetrated the Dell plant in Limerick all the more disturbing.
"The FunLove virus is simple to stop" contends Mikko Hypponen, manager of anti-virus research at Data Fellows (www.europe.datafellows.com), an Espoo, Finland-based security solutions company. "You just have to be up to date. This was a relatively new virus, but if you have automatic, Internet-based daily updates in place, you're covered against even the latest threats."
The FunLove virus is not directly destructive, Hypponen says. However, she says, it does modify Windows NT settings so that every user has full rights to all files on the system - including other people's private files. (Do we hear the distant strains of those magic, cash-register-ringing words "invasion of privacy" and "lawyers"?)
"This is a good example of how a relatively harmless virus can cost you millions," Hypponen continues.
The news didn't come at an opportune time for Dell (presuming, of course, that an opportune time ever exists for such a snafu).
The company has been bulking up its facility presence in Europe, and the efforts seem to be paying off. Dell, in fact, recently announced that it has strengthened its No. 2 position in Western Europe, recording during the second quarter of 1999 the company's highest-ever unit market share of 11.2 percent, according to data from International Data Corp.
Dell only recently opened the $90 million Limerick plant, which is the company's third manufacturing facility in Ireland. With its 1,700 workers, the Limerick plant brought Dell's total Irish work force to 6,000 employees.