Love bloomed amid bureacracy

The "love bug" computer virus swept through the United States fast, and

federal authorities moved slowly.

"In a lot of ways, getting a snippet from CNN was more valuable than

what you could get through official channels," said Keith Rhodes, director

of GAO's Office of Computer and Information Technology Assessment, speaking

to a congressional committee Wednesday.

Official warnings were slowed by the need to have them reviewed and

approved before they were released, Rhodes told the House Science Committee's

Technology Subcommittee.

The first official alert about the e-mail-borne computer virus came

at 11 a.m. May 4 when the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center

issued "a brief notice," according to the General Accounting Office. By

then, thousands of government computers, from Congress to the Pentagon to

the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had already been infected, and

some e-mail systems had been shut down. Love bug damage was long-since done

by the time a second warning was issued at 9:30 p.m. from CERT, the federally

funded computer emergency response team at Carnegie Mellon University in

Pittsburgh. The FBI issued a more detailed warning at 10 p.m.

At least four other government organizations — three of them in the

Defense Department — are responsible for protecting federal computer systems,

but none was able to sound an alarm fast enough to head off the love bug

attack.

Bureaucracy was ill-equipped to deal with the swift-moving virus. The

love bug spread worldwide in one day's time, infecting an estimated 47 million

computers. It was named for its e-mail subject line: "ILOVEYOU."

The virus was designed to spread fast. It copied itself into messages

and mailed itself to all of the addresses in an infected computer's e-mail

address book. It also spread rapidly because it was released during a work

week and without advance warning.

In addition to replicating and mailing itself, the virus deleted picture

and sound files on hard drives. Damage cost estimates range upward from

$6 billion.

The government's inability to cope with the love bug spotlights the

need for a federal information technology "czar," said Harris Miller, president

of the Information Technology Association of America.

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