Pentagon remains wary of 'Code Red' computer virus

The Defense Department continues to monitor its fortified computer systems for the so-called Code Red "worm" virus and its variants, the Pentagon's chief information officer said on Friday. John P. Stenbit, assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence said Code Red denial-of-service attacks against Defense Department computer systems appear to have been mitigated for now. "But, it has had its effect. There is no question about that," he remarked. The Defense Department's prophylactic efforts against information warfare threats presented by viruses such as Code Red are centered in Washington and at U.S. Space Command in Colorado, which has computer system defense as one of its missions. "The general (Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart) who is in charge of Space Command has a second duty of information manager, (and) there is an operations center here in town," said Stenbit, who was sworn into office Aug. 7. He noted that the Pentagon has bolstered its anti-information warfare efforts in recent years. "The comparison with how the Pentagon deals with that kind of problem today compared with three or four years ago is enormously more positive," he added. "That is a good thing, because it is enormously more dangerous these days." In dealing with Code Red, Stenbit said, Defense Department computer system guardians "discovered all the normal things that happen when you start to do defensive issues and you shut down certain gateways to protect yourself." The virus first attacked July 19 and infected more than 250,000 systems in just nine hours. Known as a "worm," Code Red scans the Internet for vulnerable systems and attempts to infect them. The spread of the virus can shut down entire computer systems. Defense officials identified the July 19 attack and directed publicly accessible military Web sites to cut their connections to the public. Defense computer network administrators also began installing special programs, or "patches," that prevent the virus from spreading. The network went back online July 24. The virus, which began mutating, attacked again July 31. Defense Department technicians had already patched systems in anticipation of another Code Red foray. Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. Craig Quigley advised reporters Aug. 2 of the agency's continued caution. "We're watching it very carefully. We don't think we're out of the woods, yet," he said at that time. Today's computer attacks are highly evolved compared to those launched by hackers years ago, Stenbit remarked. "These are much more sophisticated," he added.
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