Experts warn firms to protect themselves against viruses released to “celebrate” the millennium.

Computer experts have warned construction firms to beware of an epidemic of millennium viruses.

The Construction Industry Computing Council has urged companies to take measures to stop destructive programs gaining access to their systems through e-mail or the Internet.

Rumours are rife in the IT sector that virus-makers will celebrate the millennium by distributing software triggered to go off at midnight on 31 December. The viruses could range from innocuous happy new year messages to those that wipe hard disks.

David Taffs, president of the CICC and a director of Ove Arup & Partners, said: “The millennium bug has been over-hyped for small and medium-sized firms, but there is concern that there could be virus attacks that are geared to 1 January.”

Taffs said firms should start their vigil as early as midday on 31 December, to prevent viruses released in Australia sneaking into UK systems. “Otherwise, viruses could be running rampant all over the world,” said Taffs.

There is concern that there could be virus attacks that are geared to 1 Janaury

David Taffs, Construction Industry Computing Council

Ove Arup will hold all incoming data in a safe area from midday on 31 December. Taffs will monitor virus reports around the world and employ anti-virus software to combat any unwanted software entering the firm’s computer systems.

By midday on 1 January, Taffs expects to have loaded any necessary anti-virus aids so the flow of data can return to normal.

The CICC’s concerns are backed by the Construction Industry Computing Association. Ian Hamilton, managing director of the CICA, said: “Any data in digital form should be handled separately and carefully.”

Roy Harper, desktop services manager at the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and also CICA chairman, advised firms to ensure that their anti-virus software was up-to date. “There will be jokers out there who will do something with the start of the new year,” he said.