U.S. Mobilizes Against Future Viruses

As estimates of the damage caused by the “Love Bug” virus hover around $10 billion (US$), the U.S. Congress has launched a probe into the causes, effects, and prevention of such attacks.

“What we’d like to discover is to find out how this virus spread so quickly and what can be done to keep viruses like the Love Bug from striking again,” said Jeff Lungren, spokesman for the House Science Subcommittee on Technology.

Although the virus had minimal effects on government computers, lawmakers will hear from four industry experts who suggest that common sense can help prevent similar debacles from occurring.

“Why, in a professional environment, would you open something that says ‘I love you?’ Good common sense should tell you that if it’s not coming from someone who should be saying ‘I love you,’ then you shouldn’t open it,” said Harris Miller, president of Information Technology Association of America (ITAA).

Governments Still Recovering

In Washington, D.C., some systems were still offline yesterday as a result of the virus, which has affected an estimated 82 million computers worldwide. Most business and institutions escaped serious consequences.

Research firm Computer Economics, Inc. lowered its Love Bug damage figure to about $8.7 billion, down from $10 billion. By comparison, last year’s Melissa virus caused approximately $1 billion in lost files and manpower.

The virus marks the first time the U.S. Army and Navy shut down their e-mail systems. The Pentagon is reportedly working with commercial virus protection companies to safeguard its system against future attacks.

Major U.S. agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and parts of the Health and Human Services Department turned off their e-mail servers after the virus hit last week.

International Wake-Up Call

If the Love Bug accomplished anything positive, it may be that governments throughout the world are taking a hard look at preparing for future viruses. The denial-of-service attacks that hit such powerhouses as Amazon, eBay and Yahoo! in February, coupled with last week’s pervasive virus, have put authorities on alert for more of the same.

Still, many governments are ill-equipped to react as strongly as may be necessary. Charles Neal, of the FBI’s Computer Crime Squad in Los Angeles, told the E-Commerce Times that the Internet’s decentralized, global nature can make crimes difficult to investigate.

“Cyberspace is an international place. I liken it to being in open waters where no country has clear jurisdiction,” Neal said. “When we go into cyberspace, we don’t know where someone is from unless we can track the server’s log and then follow the trail. If that trail goes to a foreign country, to some server that hides the trail, and the government does not cooperate with us, there is nothing we can do.”

Philippines Shifts Focus of Probe

Meanwhile, authorities have shifted their attention to a loose-knit band of students in Manila, after releasing a suspect who had been taken into custody Monday.

The suspect was released for insufficient evidence. Authorities in the Philippines say their investigation has hit several roadblocks because there was no clearly relevant law in the Philippines covering the new global computer network. As a result, warrants were delayed and suspects may have had time to cover their tracks.

The government has relied on information provided by the FBI targeting current and former computer students at a Manila computer college.

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