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Broadcasters hit with computer virus attacks

U.S. media companies were hit by a wave of computer viruses last week in a warning that demonstrated hackers have gained a dangerous advantage in speed in the battle over network security.

ABC news writers resorted to typewriters to prepare copy for the “World News Tonight” broadcast last Tuesday. ABC, and other media companies, including The New York Times, reported disruptions. CNN, breaking into regular programming, reported on air that personal computers at the cable news network were affected by a worm that caused them to restart repeatedly.

Although damage was limited to several thousand computers at about 100 companies, security analysts told Reuters that the events of the week showed that code writers are accelerating the development of viruses as soon as weaknesses become apparent.

That sets up a race between media and broadcast technology managers who must update their systems and virus writers aiming to exploit holes before they are patched to fix a vulnerability.

Vincent Gullotto, vice president of the anti-virus emergency response team at McAfee, estimated that viruses affected thousands of machines, including two called “IRCBOT.WORM” and “RBOT.CBQ.” The viruses exploited recently discovered flaws in Microsoft’s Windows 2000 operating system, causing thousands of personal computers to restart repeatedly.

The viruses, Reuters reported, also potentially exposed computers to attackers who could take control of a system, launch future virus attacks and potentially glean personal data without a user’s knowledge. Symantec put the threat of the medley of viruses at an elevated threat on a two on a scale. Four is the most severe virus-threat level, according to Alfred Huger, Symantec’s senior director of engineering.

Microsoft warned users last week of three critical security flaws in its software and urged users to update the software on their personal computers with patches to prevent them from being infected. Within a few days, code writers had written and released viruses to exploit the flaws.

A few years ago, it would have been several weeks or months before a virus was released to exploit flaws in Windows.

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