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FBI To Determine If Computer ‘Virus’ Outbreak Broke Federal Law With AM-Computer Virus Bjt

November 4, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The FBI said Friday it was launching a preliminary inquiry to determine if federal law was violated in a nationwide computer ″virus″ attack on a Defense Department computer network.

FBI spokesman William Carter said a criminal investigation ultimately would be launched if it is determined federal law was violated.

The bureau will review the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which deals with unauthorized access to government computers or computers in two or more states.

If records within the computer systems that were ″infected″ are found to have been destroyed or harmed, the FBI could conduct a full-scale investigation, Carter said.

The virus is an unauthorized computer program that officials this week said reproduced in computers nationwide and apparently instructed them to send copies of itself to other machines through a research network, ARPANET.

Although there was no apparent damage, computers were turned off as they became overloaded with material.

ARPANET, established by the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, is used by researchers and defense contractors to share data.

Officials said the virus also spread into some government computers, from NASA’s Langley Research Center at Hampton, Va., to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

At Los Alamos, computer security officer Jimmy McClary said the virus had caused no damage but a few hundred scientists suffered delays in their work.

Dr. Raymond S. Colladay, the director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, told a Pentagon briefing the virus had been defeated in roughly 24 hours’ time after being spotted Wednesday evening.

He said the Pentagon was confident the computer network had resumed normal operations.

″It was a benign virus; by that I mean it didn’t destroy files,″ Colladay said.

Colladay said the computer experts and researchers who use the system had concluded the virus program - while fairly sophisticated - did not contain any ″Trojan horse″ bug that could crop up again at a later time.

He also said he thought computer experts ultimately could pinpoint the general geographic location from which the bug was delivered, but would probably be unable to pinpoint a specific individual user as the perpetrator.

Colladay said he had ordered a new study by his agency of the security procedures used by ARPANET. He said Pentagon officials purposely had designed the network as an ″open″ system and deliberately rejected various security procedures in the past on cost grounds.

Colladay and Col. Thomas M. Herrick, the manager of the Defense Data Network, said the ARPANET differed significantly from the computer networks that handle classified military information. Herrick said there was never any danger or possibility the virus could have jumped from the ARPANET to a classified system.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act prohibits gaining access to a ″federal interest computer without authorization″ and engaging in conduct which ″alters, damages or destroys information.″ Conviction carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

One of the definitions of a federal interest computer is one of two or more computers used in committing an offense which are not all located in the same state.

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