by Ted Bridis, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The weekend attack on the Internet crippled some
sensitive corporate and government systems, including banking
operations and 911 centers, far more seriously than many experts
The nation's largest residential mortgage firm, Countrywide Financial
Corp., told customers who called Monday it was still suffering from
the attack. Its Web site, where customers usually can make payments
and check their loans, was closed with a note about "emergency
Police and fire dispatchers outside Seattle resorted to paper and
pencil for hours Saturday after the virus-like attack disrupted
operations for the 911 center that serves two suburban police
departments and at least 14 fire departments.
American Express Co. confirmed that customers couldn't reach its Web
site to check credit statements and account balances during parts of
the weekend. Perhaps most surprising, the attack prevented many
customers of Bank of America Corp., one of the largest U.S. banks,
and some large Canadian banks from withdrawing money from automatic
teller machines Saturday.
President Bush's No. 2 cyber-security adviser, Howard Schmidt,
acknowledged Monday that what he called "collateral damage" stunned
even experts who have warned about uncertain effects on the nation's
most important electronic systems from mass-scale Internet
"One would not have expected a request for bandwidth would have
affected the ATM network," Schmidt said. "This is one of the things
we've been talking about for a long time, getting a handle on
interdependencies and cascading effects."
The White House and Canadian defense officials confirmed they were
investigating how the attack, which started about 12:30 a.m. EST
Saturday, could have affected ATM banking and other important
networks that should remain immune from traditional Internet outages.
Schmidt said early reports suggested private ATM networks overlapped
with parts of the public Internet. Such design decisions were
criticized as "totally brain-dead" by Alex Yuriev of AOY LLC, a
Philadelphia-based consulting firm for banks and telecommunications
Officials were most concerned about risks that citizens might lose
confidence in financial networks. "Their bread and butter is the
public being able to get access to their accounts when and where they
want them," said Ron Dick of Computer Sciences Corp., former head of
the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center. "Even during
nominal disruptions, the key is having a plan so you can provide
assurances to your customers."
The virus-like attack, alternately dubbed "slammer" or "sapphire,"
sought out vulnerable computers to infect using a known flaw in
popular database software from Microsoft Corp. called "SQL Server
The attacking software scanned for victim computers so randomly and
so aggressively that it saturated many of the Internet largest data
pipelines, slowing e-mail and Web surfing globally.
"One thing people have always feared was that the mesh among certain
critical infrastructure sectors would be affected, and there was some
of that," said Eddie Schwartz, a vice president at Predictive Systems
Inc., which runs Internet warning centers for the banking and energy
Congestion from the Internet attack eased over the weekend and was
almost completely normal by Monday. That left investigators poring
over the blueprints for the Internet worm for clues about its origin
and the identity of its author.
Complicating the investigation was how quickly the attack spread
across the globe, making it nearly impossible for researchers to find
the electronic equivalent of "patient zero," the earliest infected
"Basically within one minute, the game was over," said Johannes
Ullrich of Boston, who runs the D-Shield network of computer
monitors. He watched the attack spread with alarming speed worldwide.
Asia, especially Korea, was among the areas hardest-hit. Experts said
blueprints of the attack software were similar to a program published
on the Web months ago by David Litchfield of NGS Software Inc., a
respected British security expert who discovered the flaw in
Microsoft's database software last year.
The attack software also was similar to computer code published weeks
ago on a Chinese hacking Web site by a virus author known as "Lion,"
who publicly credited Litchfield for the idea.
Litchfield said he deliberately published his blueprints for computer
administrators to understand how hackers might use the program to
attack their systems.
"Anybody capable of writing such a worm would have found out this
information without my sample code," Litchfield said. "Just because
someone publishes a proof-of-concept code doesn't necessarily help
the people we should be worried about."
Still, Litchfield's disclosure was likely to reignite a simmering
dispute among security researchers and technology companies about how
much information to disclose when they discover serious
vulnerabilities in popular software. "I personally would rather
people not publish exploit code," said Steve Lipner, a top security
official at Microsoft Corp.
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Litchfield responded that his warnings about the threat _ plus his
detailed example _ might have frightened many professionals into
installing software repairs. Microsoft said the number of users
downloading its repairing patch reached 6,800 per hour Monday.