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FBI probes causes of computer crash

Investigations are still underway to explain the computer crash that affected thousands of civilian and military computers all over the nation, including those at the University.

During a 36-hour period that began early Monday evening, several schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Minnesota, and the University of California at Berkeley, were affected, according to the Associated Press.

Nationwide investigations

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Several unclassified Navy computers were also affected, according to Commander O'Leary from the U.S. Navy Office of Information in New York City.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is heading up the effort to find the people responsible, O'Leary said. "The FBI handles all investigations involving military computer systems," he added.

Microsoft Corporation Group Products Manager Edmund Muth said Microsoft is also performing an investigation in cooperation with "law enforcement agencies and the various institutions involved."

"As a company, it's our policy to cooperate aggressively with law enforcement agencies when security breaches occur against our clients," Muth said.

Huth added the University has been an important collaborator in this and past investigations. "Princeton is well known about its expertise in computer security," he said.

According to Muth, there are various types of "cyber-attacks" possible.

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"This type of attack is called a 'denial of service attack,' when no data is conducted to the computers, and that causes them to freeze. Most systems are set just to reboot after they freeze," he added.

University network

Muth also said the University's lack of Internet security makes it a more-susceptible target to cyber attacks.

"This type of attack can only be mounted against organizations that do not protect their networks with firewalls. . . . A firewall is a piece of software that insulates the Internet from the internal network of the organization," Muth said.

CIT Director of Systems and Networking, and Lee Varian explained the University network does not have a firewall because "firewalls limit the access that you would have into and out of the University network."

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"The only way a firewall is really effective is if you have a really closed-in network with few connections with the outside," Varian explained. "They slow down Internet access," he added.

Muth said this kind of attack is not difficult for hackers to launch. He explained that all one needs for such an attack is "a personal computer and a program on the computer to send out IP packets."

"This attack employed malformed IP packets, which are garbage packets that are not correctly formatted. When a computer receives these packets, it crashes. But no data loss occurs, unless the user hasn't saved recently," Muth explained. "Firewalls can filter these packets out," he noted.

Muth said Internet users should be aware of security considerations.

"It's good data-processing hygiene to incorporate the newest security features available," Muth noted. "The message here is that it's important to employ the software updates we provide."

A free software download to prevent this type of attack is available at www.microsoft.com/security.

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