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'Code Red' computer worm targets White House

ATLANTA (CNN) -- A computer worm known as "Code Red" was unleashed on nearly 100,00 Web servers Thursday, posing a risk of deleted files and slow performance, computer security experts said. One of its intended targets, they said, was the White House Web site.

A computer worm is a program that propagates itself by attacking other machines and copying itself to them.

But computer experts said home Internet users would probably not be affected, and there is no cause for panic. Dozens of new worms and viruses are released each week.

They said this particular worm does have some destructive capabilities, meaning it can destroy or delete some files, but the major problem it is causing is a degradation of performance, and some system instability. For example, it could cause slowdowns in business networks that have been affected. It can also result in altered or garbled Web pages.

An analysis of the worm program by network protection company eEye Digital Security said the infected computers were programmed to hit the White House Web site Thursday evening with a "denial of service" attack, and could potentially slow parts of the Internet to a crawl.

However, Keynote Systems, which monitors the '' site, said the site was immunized against the worm and is operating just fine, with a 95 percent availability to those who try to access it.

One expert said computer security analysts have been aware of the worm for a couple of weeks, but it was moving fast.

"We've seen this worm spread quickly to a significant number of machines," said Jeffrey Carpenter, a coordination manager for CERT. CERT is a clearinghouse for computer intrusions, based at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Only Web servers with a particular configuration of Microsoft Windows, known as IIS, are vulnerable to this attack. A patch, or fix, is available via CERT at, or through a number of other virus protection companies.

Reports of Code Red have come from around the world, with no particular region hit harder than any, experts said.

"The trick with all these attacks is, when does it rise to the level of being noteworthy?" asked Ben Venzke, a security expert at iDEFENSE in Fairfax, Va.

Expert said the Code Red worm is nowhere near legendary predecessors like the ILOVEYOU worm or Melissa virus.

Venzke says even the most meticulous system administrators have a hard time keeping up with all the patches and fixes necessary.

"We're going to have to come to a time when we do something more than just constantly react to these attacks," he told CNN.

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