'Bracing for worst, hoping for best'
(CNN) -- Experts say the latest version of the computer worm known as "Code Red" was expected to start infecting a new round of computer servers Tuesday around 8 p.m. EDT. The worm could set off a major Internet disruption, widespread slowdowns, and even some outages.
CNN.com's Science and Technology Editor Daniel Sieberg explains the problem and possible solution.
SIEBERG: This is a worm that's spreading around over the Internet. It's not like one of the viruses we've seen in the past, like the "love bug" and so on, which would come into your e-mail. This is a worm that's spreading out through the Internet and infecting computer that are running a certain type of server software. So most home users aren't going to be infected by this.
It's spreading out, and it has a couple of cycles that it goes through, but the first of every month, that's when it starts to replicate itself. It sends itself out to as many computers as it can find, literally over the entire Internet, across the world.
Now between the first of the month and the 20th of the month, that's when it's sending itself out and jamming up the Internet. And we know that, because we've seen what it's done last month. It actually came out a couple of weeks ago, so we know about this timeframe.
Now at 8 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Eastern Time, that's midnight Greenwich Mean Time, that's August 1, which is the beginning of the second cycle. Now that's about eight hours from now. That doesn't necessarily that the Internet is going to collapse, that people aren't going to access their sites. Their really is no way of knowing for sure exactly what's going to happen. It's just bracing for the worst, hoping for the best, hoping these companies will put this patch in place.
Q: How fast could it go across the world?
SIEBERG: Well, it could go extremely fast, and this is what concerns a lot of computer experts. The last time it came out a couple of weeks ago, it spread to about 250,000 computers within the first nine hours. Now they're a little concerned that could be that bad or that it may not be that bad if companies put the patch in place to stop it from spreading so quickly.
Q: What's a patch?
SIEBERG: A patch is something that would close a vulnerability in a program. It's a Microsoft product that has this vulnerability. When companies who run this program use it as a server program, they go out, they get this patch from Microsoft's site, put it on their computers. That's going to close this hole, they hope. That's what they hope is going to happen with the patch. This is literally like a patch on your skin that closes off and heals it. Now it may or may not work with a new variation of this worm. It could have mutated. It may not do exactly what they expect it to do. So it's a lot of guessing game going on.
Q: What about home computers or those at small businesses?
SIEBERG: Small businesses really need to look at this and put it on their computer. It's for people who are hosting a Web site or have a server running. They're the ones that are more vulnerable to this.
The average user, like you and I, we won't be as susceptible to this, because we might be running Windows 97, Windows 95, those types of programs. We aren't hosting Web pages. It's a much different use of the Internet. So people don't, at home, don't need to rush and get this patch and put it on their computer. It doesn't apply to them. It's more to the people in corporations that are hosting Web sites. And what happens is when this worm infects those computers, it bogs down that computer, it bogs down the Internet, and that's when the average user, like you and I, are going to notice it.
Q: Why is there slowdown?
SIEBERG: Exactly, yes, slowdown or crashes completely, where you can't even get into a particular site.
Q: So how does a business or somebody know? What are they looking for when they open up a computer or know what's happening to them, so they can try and avoid it?
SIEBERG: Well, this part of difficulty. It's very tough to see if this worm has into your system or into your computer. It's up to the system administrator or up the small businesses to get a scan done on their computer, to maybe go to one of these sites. They're offered usually for free. It can be done. They can find these patches for free, if they need it on their computer. And again, to stress most people don't need to do this. They will see what happened later tonight. If this does bog down the Internet like they think it could, they may see the traffic on the Internet really slowdown. There's about a 40 percent degradation the last time this went out, which is pretty significant on the Internet.
Q: How soon do we know? If it starts around 8 p.m. tonight Eastern Time, how soon will we know if this causes a problem?
SIEBERG: Well, it could take a couple of hours for security experts to see what sort of impact it has. If it doesn't have any impact at all, if companies have done what they needed to do and updated their systems, we may not notice for sometime, because it will take longer for it to spread out. It could happen right away. It could take a long time. You know, maybe tomorrow. Again, it's a bit of guessing game, and a wait and see when all this happens.
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