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System gurus guard against infection from incoming PCs

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Security

It's happy days for pizza vendors and futon salesmen, as 100,000 college students swarm into Greater Boston for the start of a new academic year. But for college computer administrators, it's the season to be wary.

Nearly every one of the students will arrive with a personal computer. And there's no telling where these machines have traveled on the Internet, or what dirty, debilitating viruses and worms they've picked up along the way. Once the students start plugging in, a single infected machine could ravage a school's entire data network. So all over Boston, college tech specialists are on red alert.

''We're sort of planning for the worst case right now." Computers that run various versions of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system are especially vulnerable to malware. Students could protect themselves by using alternatives like Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh machines, or computers that run the Linux or Unix operating systems. But Moore and other administrators say the majority of incoming students run Windows.

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