'Virus' crashes computers
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Sullivan County government became a guinea pig this week, and for all the wrong reasons.
On Friday, some of the computers in the county Government Center in Monticello began exhibiting signs of a virus. By Monday, it had spread to 140 workstations throughout the center, the Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.
The potent mix of various viruses working together as one forced a shutdown of many more computers to limit the infection, leaving dozens of government employees unable to complete their duties this entire week. Deputies even had to return to the old paper blotter entry system, according to Undersheriff Eric Chaboty.
And when staff of the county’s Management Information Systems (MIS) department which oversees the county’s network contacted the operating software company, they found out Sullivan County was the first in the world to identify this particular brand of computer virus.
Thus no antivirus program yet exists to combat it, delaying efforts to erase it from the system.
“It’s coming from a remote server out of the Netherlands,” County Manager David Fanslau informed legislators yesterday.
So far, the county’s central server and files housing sensitive and critical data of all kinds have not been affected, and personal, private information on the county’s citizens has not been stolen or lost. The virus apparently is content to prohibit users from logging on and kicking offline those who manage to log in, along with changing dates from 2009 to faraway years like 4100.
Fanslau said the system should be back up by the end of today, but in the meantime, staff with crucial tasks to complete have been given access to uninfected, protected computers set up by an MIS department that’s already been logging long hours deploying the county’s new phone system.
“The county’s ability to serve the public was not affected,” Fanslau stated, but so many tasks have been disrupted that legislators agreed yesterday to push back the next round of legislative committees from this coming Thursday, March 12 to Tuesday, March 17.
In the meantime, Fanslau said the county is going to implement new policies and rigorously enforce existing ones prohibiting unauthorized hardware connections and e-mail downloads. Though the exact source of infection has yet to be identified, Fanslau indicated it may have been a portable flash drive plugged into a Government Center computer, introducing the virus into the system.
Fanslau himself has been unable to access his computer since Monday, having to turn to his handheld Treo to answer email and conduct business. Even though many of the county’s 982 computers were not affected, he estimated the county has lost as much as $10,000 a day in staff productivity since Friday’s infection.