Virus cripples computer networks

May 04, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

A software virus that tempted computer users with an e-mail note proclaiming "ILOVEYOU" crippled government and corporate computer networks around the world Thursday, and left Allegheny Energy and city of Hagerstown employees without Internet access for most of the day.

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The affected employees were not expected to have Internet access before this morning at the earliest, Allegheny Energy and city employees said.

Allegheny Energy said customer service was unaffected.

Through a public address system announcement Thursday morning, and a follow-up fax in the afternoon, about 4,500 Allegheny Energy employees systemwide were urged not to check their e-mail or undertake other Internet activities, Guy Fletcher, a company spokesman, said.

Some employees began receiving e-mails containing the virus at about 7:50 a.m. Thursday, Fletcher said. He said he received at least five copies of the bug himself.


The utility's employees were asked to avoid all Internet activities as a precautionary measure until more about the virus was known, Fletcher said.

He and some other employees were using faxes instead of e-mails for some communications today, he said.

"The good news is it is more of an annoyance than a practical problem," Fletcher said.

Computer experts were working on the problem Thursday night, he said.

City of Hagerstown employees, including about 30 members of the Hagerstown Police Department, were without e-mail and Internet access for much of the day Thursday, Public Information Manager Karen Giffin said.

Some city employees were receiving internal e-mail but could not receive e-mail that originated outside city buildings, Giffin said.

There are almost 500 city employees but she said she did not know how many had Internet access.

At 5 p.m., city employees were still being told not to use e-mail or the Internet until experts checked all city departments for potential problems, Finance Director Al Martin said.

Internet access may be restored by this morning, depending on how long it takes to ensure all computers are fine, according to Martin.

He was not aware of the virus damaging any city files, he said.

Customers were not calling New Frontiers Internet Services, to ask about the virus but that may have been because of the amount of media coverage on the Internet, company owner Clint Wiley said.

He was not aware of any of the company's 1,200 to 1,500 customers suffering problems from the virus, he said Thursday afternoon.

The virus targets computers running on Microsoft's Windows operating system, attacking the Outlook e-mail program and the Internet Explorer browser, both of which are made by Microsoft.

The bug spreads like most e-mail viruses, arriving as a seemingly friendly message, infiltrating a person's computer address book and sending copies of itself to contacts listed.

The virus was activated by opening the "LOVELETTER" attachment. That commandeered a computer's Internet browser to visit a Web page, download a program that searches for various types of passwords, and send them to an e-mail account that appeared to be based in the Philippines. The Web site was later shut down by its service producer.

In addition to overwhelming computer networks with the sheer crush of e-mail it generates, the new virus strikes out at some of the most popular new passions on the Internet, destroying digital photographs and music stored with the digital technology known as MP3.

Experts said they were stunned by the speed and wide reach of the "love bug" virus, - which struck members of U.S. Congress and British parliament - and warned computer users not to open the "LOVELETTER" attachment that comes with the contaminated e-mail.

By midday Eastern time, a virus scanning system provided on the Internet by the Trend Micro computer security company had detected more than 500,000 infected computer files around the world, including more than 350,000 in the United States.

In Britain, about 30 percent of company e-mail systems were brought down by the virus, according to Network Associates, another computer security firm. In Sweden, the tally was 80 percent.

The virus appeared in Hong Kong late in the afternoon, spreading throughout e-mail systems once a user opened one of the contaminated messages. It later moved into European parliamentary houses and through the high-tech systems of big companies and financial traders.

The FBI quickly opened a criminal investigation, and agents were trying to verify reports that the outbreak may have begun in Asia, possibly the Philippines.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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