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'Code Red' Internet Virus Looms - 2001-07-30

Internet users around the world are being warned about the threat posed by an aggressive form of cyber-sabotage known as the Code Red. Experts say it could cripple the World Wide Web if precautions are not taken. The Code Red worm is being described as one of the most vicious yet.

Somewhere in the world, someone released the Code Red worm virus into cyberspace, so named because of its ability to burrow into the internet, infecting everything from routing systems to individual computers. As it spreads and mutates, it also slows web traffic and can deface or cripple web sites.

During a seven day period earlier in July, the worm infected more than 350,000 computer systems and slowed the internet by 40 percent. Ron Dick, director of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center, is bracing for the possibility of widespread outages starting at midnight universal time Tuesday, when the sophisticated virus has been programmed to spread even more rapidly. He said, "I guess what makes this one different than any of the others is how dramatically it's been able to propagate itself, the viciousness associated with that."

So much so that the FBI considers the worm a risk to U.S. national security, given its threat to cripple everything from banking to electric power - virtually any business carried out over the Web that runs on Microsoft operating systems. "Although the worm has only been used for denial of service attacks," he said, "an attacker can exploit the vulnerability to gain control over web servers or alter or steal critical corporate and private data."

But it can be easily stopped. All Microsoft users need to do is download a special patch from the company's web site.

The FBI does not know where the virus originated but is working with other countries to try to find the source. Experts say the worm is too sophisticated to be the work of an amateur.