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Sunday, 29 July, 2001, 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK
Internet's 'very real' virus threat
White House website
Code Red has targeted the White House website
United States Government departments and several private companies have issued an unprecedented warning to organisations throughout the world to protect themselves against a computer bug known as the Code Red Worm.

Representatives of the White House, the FBI, Microsoft Inc. and others have posted warnings on their websites, and are planning a news conference on Monday to highlight the dangers of the worm.

Worms like Code Red pose a distinct threat to the internet

NIPC head Ron Dick
Ron Dick, the head of an FBI arm called the National Infrastructure Protection Centre (NIPC), said worms like Code Red posed a distinct threat to the internet.

The worm has already infected and caused outages in hundreds of thousands of systems.

And it is likely to start spreading again on 31 July in a mutated and potentially even more dangerous form.

Officials are urging users to install a security patch available on Microsoft's website.

The Associated Press news agency said that while the US Government often works with private companies to combat new viruses, they have never before made such a high-profile appeal.

Widespread outages

The worm causes a slowing of the internet and can cause sporadic but widespread outages.

The Pentagon had to pull the plug on its public facing sites
In the first nine hours of an outbreak on 19 July, it infected more than 250,000 systems.

Code Red exploits a vulnerability in internet server software from Microsoft on the companies NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 operating systems. Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows Me users are not affected.

For English websites, the worm replaces sites' homepage with the text "Hacked by Chinese".

Because of the rapid spread of Code Red, security companies have not been able to work out who wrote or released the worm.

Government woes

Last week the worm forced the US Defence Department to pull the plug on its public facing sites from 20-24 July.

The Pentagon is the world's largest user of computers, with some 10,000 networks.

But the worm's ultimate purpose has been to launch a denial of service attack against the White House website.

In a denial of service attack, infected computers attempt to flood a website with traffic, rendering it unable to respond to legitimate requests.

But White House web administrators foiled the last attack by moving the site to a new address.

See also:

24 Jul 01 | Americas
Pentagon dodges virus threat
20 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
White House dodges web virus
24 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Web warning centre in net attack
01 May 01 | Sci/Tech
US and Chinese hackers trade blows
11 Feb 00 | UK
A - Z: Hack attack
27 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Hacking: A history
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