- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

The Internet came under attack last weekend, not by a wickedly tantalizing "I love you" virus or its kind, but by a threat less familiar to most Americans. The so-called Slammer Internet worm was self-generating, able to cause massive disruptions without a single victim opening a single e-mail. That's because worms are far stealthier adversaries than viruses and are programmed to "loop," performing the same task over and over. But the significance of the Slammer may lie not so much in the problems it caused, which were global, but rather in the warning it sounded to businesses and telecommuters.
The Slammer worm was programmed to visit an IP address, and then another, and then another…causing congestion that slowed Internet access considerably. The worm didn't cause damage to any computers or invade computer privacy, but the slow-down paralyzed some Internet-based services around the world. Bank of America Corp. reported that its U.S. customers were unable to withdraw money from its 13,000 ATM machines, and telephone service in Finland was brought down by the Slammer. According to Keynote Systems, a Web performance management company, the Slammer "affected more Web users for a longer duration than any previous Internet performance event."
While the Slammer was programmed to cause Internet disruptions, some worms could be loaded with more nefarious instructions. And some worms drop viruses, which can damage computers while self-propagating. Given this clear and present threat, the public and private sector must take action to bolster Internet security.
The author of the Slammer worm exploited a well-known deficiency in a Microsoft software program, and was able to enter a command in an area that was supposed to read only data. Microsoft had released a software update to prevent this problem about six months prior, but companies delayed in implementing it. And, while companies have generally become quicker in updating their software as necessary, the Slammer episode demonstrates delays are still widespread and potentially hazardous.
So, businesses must step up their efforts to implement software updates and ensure they have current anti-virus technology to protect their networks. And, since employees who log onto networks from home could provide hackers with a more vulnerable opening for mischief, people who telecommute must do the same.

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