Sasser Worm Has Little Impact on Hill

Posted May 3, 2004 at 6:29pm

A widely spread Internet virus temporarily disabled computers in nearly 30 Senate offices as well as a handful of House locations on Monday, but did not appear to cause any significant damage.

According to House and Senate officials, the “Sasser worm” — an Internet-based virus that attacks Microsoft operating systems and prompts infected computers to shut down repeatedly — affected only a fraction of the nearly 22,000 computers used by the two chambers.

Assistant Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Greg Hanson, also the chamber’s chief information officer, said the virus infected approximately 29 offices on that side of the Capitol.

The first instances of the virus in Senate offices appeared Monday morning, according to Hanson, who described the virus attack as “an inconvenience and an aggravation.”

“We’ve got it under control and I don’t think it’s going to be a major impact,” he said. “It doesn’t appear to be doing any permanent damage to files or machines.”

Senate officials believe anti-virus software installed prior to Monday screened out much of the virus, Hanson said.

Several staffers whose computers were infected described the impact as minimal, citing just the “nuisance factor” it created.

“My computer was affected for about an hour or so,” noted Sid Smith, who serves as Sen. Larry Craig’s (R-Idaho) deputy press sectary. “Our systems administrator was pretty well on top of it … and managed to get it taken care of in a relatively short amount of time.

“It didn’t kill too much of my workday, but it was definitely bothersome,” he added.

While the virus also hit Sen. Mark Pryor’s (D-Ark.) team, a spokesman noted most of their computers were fixed by Monday afternoon.

“It was an attempt on all our computers — [it] got through on 25 percent and the anti-virus software picked it up on the other 75 percent,” said Pryor spokesman Rodell Mollineau. “We’re doing the best we can.”

On the other side of the Capitol, House officials tallied only 40 infected computers — the chamber has about 12,000 units — by mid-Monday afternoon.

A House Administration Committee spokesman attributed the low infection rate to House Information Resources personnel, who began advising staffers last week to install a patch offered by Microsoft that eliminates a loophole the virus uses to infect computers.

“This type of virus has the potential to spread very easily,” noted Brian Walsh, spokesman for the House Administration panel. “The fact that they were at least able to get 80 percent of the House computers installed with the patch before the virus hit is a very good thing.”

The House also maintains a Computer Incident Response Team, and created a “virus remediation team” to respond to infected computers.

“It’s still an ongoing process,” Walsh noted. “They’re working around the clock to secure the system.”

John McArdle contributed to this report.