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Computer Virus Strikes FBI, U.S. Marshals: Report

3:03 AM Posted by Slamy

In one of his many memorable skits, my favorite comedian, the late George Carlin, lists “Things you don’t want to hear,” and this gem is among them:

“Well, Jim, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t live another 50 to 60 years. However, you will be bleeding constantly from both eyes.”

If you’re a federal law enforcement officials who is charged with protecting the kind of ultra-confidential information that increasingly travels through computer networks, I imagine the equivalent of that bad news for Jim goes something like this:

“A mysterious computer virus has infected your networks and forced both the FBI and U.S. Marshals to shut down.”

Yet that’s pretty much what happened this week, according to Devlin Barrett of the Associated Press.

Officials at the U.S. Marshals reportedly confirmed that they disconnected from Justice Department computers after the virus hit, and the FBI conceded that the agency also was having a problem.

Here’s what FBI spokesman Mike Kortan told Barrett: “We too are evaluating a network issue on our external, unclassified network that’s affecting several government agencies.”

What those agencies are he would not say, according to Barrett.

Yet the incident points to a disturbing phenomenon that deserves some thought. It is the business world, not the U.S. government, that leads the industry when it comes to developing new technology to cut costs, boost communications and increase efficiency, and it’s the private sector that often is ahead of the curve when it comes to detecting cybercriminals’ activity.

Consider: At about 76 percent of all phishing attacks, software represents the largest doorway that cybercriminals such as hackers use to enter computer users’ systems and steal confidential information. And one Cupertino, California-based security, storage and systems management solutions provider – Symantec Corp. – recently reported that it’s seeing malicious code grow at a record pace.

In recent weeks, more and more home and small office computers have seen their networks compromised by Internet security attacks that gain traction through the devices that many of us use to make our home-surfing lives more portable: routers. (To try and preempt the attacks, one Fountain Valley, California-based company recently launched a new system that prevents malicious software by detecting whether responses are generated by humans or computers.)

According to Stephen Trilling, vice president of Symantec’s (News - Alert) security technology and response group, the company is seeing attackers shift away from mass distribution of a few threats to micro-distribution of millions of distinct threats.

“Cybercriminals are profiting from creating and distributing customized threats that steal confidential information, particularly bank account credentials and credit card data,” Trilling said. “While the above ground economy suffers, the underground economy has remained consistently steady.”

That recalls some of what TMCnet heard recently from the world’s largest maker of computer networking gear. Officials at Cisco Systems Inc. say that cyber-criminals’ attacks are becoming more targeted and sophisticated.

This latest problem apparently started yesterday morning, for both the Marshals and the FBI. No data was compromised, officials said.

The type of virus that caused the shut-down and its origin are not clear, they said.

“In Thursday’s incident, the Marshals Service shut down its Internet access and some e-mail while staff worked on the problem,” Barrett reports. “The FBI made similar moves to protect its system.”

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