Worm hits State Dept.

The Welchia worm hit the State Department's worldwide intranet yesterday, forcing a computer shutdown that lasted nine hours and prevented embassies and consuls from conducting background checks for visa applicants.

After computer experts discovered the virus had gotten into the State Department's unclassified system, they shut the computers down while determining what damage was done, according to Stuart Patt, spokesman for the State Department's Consular Affairs Bureau.

"They wanted to protect our worldwide system and closed off the connection between [Washington, D.C.] and our embassies and consulates," Patt said. "This affected not only our name check system, but all unclassified connections with posts abroad."

The system was shut down at noon and was gradually brought back by 9 p.m., according to Patt.

"There is no reason to believe that any visa issuance was compromised or the system damaged by the worm," Patt said.

While the shutdown prevented embassies and consuls from running visa names through a background check, visas could be issued if the name check had been completed, he said. Welchia, which began hitting computers last month, exploits a flaw in recent versions of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows software. It has infected hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide, including the Navy Marine Corps Intranet.

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