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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Computers Countywide Affected by Pesky Virus

E-mail: The bug hits local businesses, schools, government agencies and home offices, but only minimal problems are reported.

May 05, 2000|TONY LYSTRA and CATHERINE BLAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was well after the lunch hour and Clancy Priest figured he had better order pizza or face mutiny. Priest, who oversees the computer systems for the city of Ventura, had his staff working through lunch to battle a ruthless computer virus that ravaged computer networks around the world Thursday.

The virus attacked businesses, government agencies, schools and home offices. Victims included the Pleasant Valley School District and biotechnology firm Amgen, the county's largest private employer.

It came disguised as a love note. Computer users across the county were greeted Thursday morning by one or more e-mail messages in their in-boxes with the words "ILOVEYOU" in the subject heading.

If employees opened the message--and an attached file--it launched a chain reaction through office computer networks. As the virus struck computers, it forwarded automatically to every listing in the address book of the Microsoft Outlook e-mail program. From there, it devoured eight types of computer files, including picture, graphics and music files.

"It's one of the nastier viruses I've seen," Priest said. "It's actually malicious."

Quick thinking by computer specialists in the morning hours headed off disaster at many facilities. Priest, who arrived at his Poli Street office early Thursday, noted that his e-mail in-box was piled with nearly 170 e-mail messages, all but 10 reading "ILOVEYOU."

"That's when the red flags go up," he said.

Sixteen city employees had opened the message and infected the network by the time Priest warned them to delete the files. Some computer files were destroyed Thursday, but Priest said the city has backup copies. The virus prompted the city to take down its e-mail system, leaving employees without e-mail for the day. By early evening, the system was back up with no problems.

"If a couple hundred people opened it I'd probably be fighting it past midnight," he said.

Other organizations throughout the county had similar problems. Computers at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme were taken offline, leaving about 1,500 computers without access to e-mail, said base spokeswoman Linda Wadley. The computer networks weren't infected, but Navy officials wanted to disconnect them from the Internet, lest they be torpedoed by the virus, quickly dubbed the "love bug."

"It's very annoying because it's one of our main forms of business communications," said Jeanne Schick, spokeswoman for the Surface Warfare Center on the Port Hueneme base.

Still, Schick said communications were not interrupted with the Navy's ships at sea and, aside from the inconvenience, business continued as usual.

Employees at Point Mugu's Naval Air Station, the County Government Center and city halls in Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley all received the ILOVEYOU e-mail Thursday, officials said. But computer specialists warned employees against opening them. Technicians then downloaded anti-virus software from the Internet to prevent the infection of their networks.

Paul Paredes, who manages technical services for Ventura County government offices, said that although several employees received the tainted e-mail attachments on Thursday, the virus was quickly contained. No county records were believed lost or damaged, Paredes said.

County employees do not use Microsoft Outlook e-mail software, the trigger for spreading Thursday's virus, Paredes said. Also, he said, the county has a strong and regularly updated software designed to protect against viruses.

Others didn't have it so easy.

At Amgen, networks were infected after employees opened their e-mail, said company spokesman David Kaye. Technicians had the e-mail system offline for part of the day but had it running again by evening.

"There was a delay in e-mail throughout the day, but no significant impact," Kaye said.

Many of the county's largest school districts also had to deal with the virus.

The Pleasant Valley School District in Camarillo was one of the worst hit, with at least 15 computers infected before the server was taken down.

"We wanted to keep people from spreading it," said Sherry Cole, administrative and community services manager for the Pleasant Valley School District.

She said 400 files were destroyed on one computer. The district has about 7,200 students at 15 sites.

"My work production hasn't been affected substantially today, but if the server were down long-term it would," she said.

At the Oxnard Elementary School District, the virus was sent to two employees, but a district filter siphoned off the e-mails and destroyed them before they arrived at the employees' terminals.

"I feel a great pat on the back for taking the time to set up [the filter]," Dan Kubilos, technology coordinator, said of the program the district has used for over a year.

At the Simi Valley Unified School District, at least eight machines were down because of the virus but the problems were not widespread, according to Kathy Robinson, director of information services for the district.

"It hasn't been debilitating to have eight PCs down out of the 5,000 in the district," she said. "Any virus warrants concern, but once we're aware and people start looking, that's all you need."

*

Times staff writer Margaret Talev contributed to this story.

* INTERNATIONAL BUG

'ILOVEYOU' was launched from the Philippines. A1

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