The University of Exeter has suffered a ‘virus attack' which it believes came in through PCs running Microsoft Windows Vista Service Pack 2.

In an update to students, registrar and deputy chief executive David Allen explained that it was essential to shut down the network as soon as possible to avoid machines and files being so corrupted that it takes weeks to recover.

He recommended PC users who are running Microsoft Windows Vista Service Pack 2 to not connect to the university network until further advice is issued.

Allen said: “This issue is being treated with the utmost priority, and we have a computer security expert working on site with our IT team today to try to diagnose and cure the problem.

“In the meantime we have brought back online some buildings which do not have the Vista operating system. We will endeavour to get all buildings online as soon as is possible and safe. In the case that the virus is found once an area is back online, we may need to remove that building from the network, so the network should be deemed unstable for all users for the time being.”

He also revealed that the university's Cornwall campus had been isolated from the University of Exeter network to avoid virus problems there.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said: “University campuses are, of course, complex beasts and the IT teams who secure them can have a tough job. The problem is compounded by having a massive user base of students who may plug their own devices into the network, or may show little care for the security of a communal computer and put it at unnecessary risk.

“Keeping up-to-date with security patches and software is a must, as is educating staff and students about the dangers that might be lurking on the internet. It's not clear at the moment if this is how the un-named virus entered the University of Exeter's network, but anyone attaching their computer to someone else's network has a duty of care to ensure that it is properly protected and not spreading viruses like a modern-day Typhoid Mary.”