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Virus strikes state computer system


HELENA - The Montana state computer system ground to a halt Tuesday when it came under attack from a virus, one week after escaping unscathed when a similar virus-like worm hit computers around the world.

Many state services, such as license renewals at the Motor Vehicle Division, were unavailable Tuesday and many state workers were unable to get into some of the state's main computing systems.

The so-called ''nachio'' virus is knockoff of the ''lovesan'' virus that affected computers around the world last week, said Mike Boyer, chief of Computing Technology Services for the state.

Both exploit a flaw in the Microsoft operating systems, though a fix had been available for nearly a month.

Where the ''lovesan'' virus shuts down the computer systems and makes it difficult to restart them, the latest is a so-called friendly virus that tries to automatically get the Microsoft patch to protect against ''lovesan.''

In the process, though, it clogged up network traffic, crashing parts of the state network.

''It's a pretty broad impact,'' Boyer said Tuesday. ''We are trying to isolate those areas that have infected machines.''

He said maybe only three dozen of the thousands of computers in state government have been found to be infected. But once behind system safeguards, the virus hit the state network.

Computer specialists were slowly bringing various parts of the state's computer systems back on line Tuesday after cleansing the virus from systems. Boyer said he wasn't certain when the work would be finished.

Boyer speculated the virus could have breached safeguards when someone brought a laptop in from home, or perhaps because a few systems didn't receive the Microsoft fix.

''Once it gets in, it spreads like wildfire,'' Boyer said.

State servers and all the data stored on them are secure and protected, Boyer said. But the fix requires that computer specialists need to go through the work stations.

Then they restore network connections.

''We are bringing up pieces of the system one at a time,'' he said.

The state Highway Patrol chief, Col. Shawn Driscoll, said his agency's core operating systems for law enforcement were still working. But the system has interrupted the nonpriority messages the agency sends to its officers around the state.

''The inconvenience to us is mostly from an administrative point of view,'' he said Tuesday. ''You don't realize how much you depend on this stuff until this stuff goes down.''


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