Irish electronic systems face attack by computer `worm'

 

Electronic systems in the Republic are facing attack at 1 a.m. tomorrow from a worm-like computer virus which can deface websites, disrupt e-mail systems and slow down the Internet.

The "Code Red" virus will target English-language websites around the world run on Internet servers powered by the popular Microsoft NT and Windows 2000 software platforms.

Microsoft Ireland has informed thousands of its customers about the potential risks and yesterday urged all users of the targeted systems to install a software patch to stop the virus spreading.

Security specialists estimated last night that at least 8,500 Irish-specific websites could be at risk from the virus as they use the platforms which are at risk.

"Code Red" first struck in the US on July 19th, when it attacked the White House website, although that assault was repulsed when the White House changed its numerical Internet address.

Last week the Pentagon was forced temporarily to shut down public access to its websites while it purged its system and installed software inoculation to protect military communications.

"Code Red" is believed to have infected 250,000 systems in the first nine hours of the July 19th outbreak. The worm has lain dormant but will start spreading again at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time today (1 a.m. Irish time tomorrow), according to the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) at Carnegie-Mellon University.

Mr Patrick Hynes, leader of Ernst & Young's Dublin-based Internet security team, said "Code Red" was a particularly dangerous virus which could threaten the Republic.

Some Irish businesses had been affected already, he added.

No one knows where it comes from but "Code Red" defaces English-language websites with the words "HELLO! Welcome to http://www.worm.com! Hacked by Chinese!" After a Chinese pilot was killed in a collision with a US spy plane on April 1st, Chinese hackers threatened a "cyber-war" against the US.

US government and FBI officials and Microsoft held a joint news conference yesterday to alert computer-users that the worm would be activated this evening.

According to Mr Ian Taylor, enterprise services manager at Microsoft Ireland, software fixes for both Microsoft platforms which were vulnerable to "Code Red" could be downloaded free of charge from the website www.microsoft.com/security

"Code Red" will be the second computer virus to impact in the Republic in just over a week. At least 30 Irish companies have reported problems with their email systems to security specialists since the Sircam virus surfaced here in mid-July.