Top media websites, among them Time Warner's CNN unit, Walt Disney Company's ABC and the New York Times crashed Tuesday afternoon after a multi-pronged attack by assorted hackers.
More media mayhem was created Wednesday morning, hitting other media sites such as Asahi Shimbun (Japan) and the People's Daily in China. And media sites were not the only victims, with the likes of DaimlerChrysler, UPS and Kraft Foods all reporting attacks.
At least six worms - small programs that replicate themselves - have appeared in the past few days, exploiting a number of the vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows operating system, admitted by the company last week.
Computer security gurus attribute the outbreak to an internet-crime turf war. According to David Maynor, an Atlanta-based security expert, after a machine is infected it receives additional instructions from a central server via an internet-messaging system. It then tries to infect other machines on the corporate network,
Maynor believes hackers are organizing such infected machines into 'bot' networks that can be used to launch extortion schemes, spam or 'phishing' attacks, which attempt to trick surfers into providing personal information. "A good way to describe this would be a turf war," opines Maynor.
At CNN, the worm zonked studios in Atlanta and New York, forcing the cable news channel to telecast from Washington until operations in New York could be restored.
It was incongruous situation. "We were in the unusual position of reporting on a virus that was spreading while we were frantically trying to fix it," said Jon Klein, CNN president of US operations.
The worms also hit both the New York City and Burbank offices of ABC and Disney. According to ABC staffers, the news unit had to resurrect old electric typewriters to type copy for World News Tonight. Despite this return to the dark ages, the broadcast went smoothly.
Debbie Fry Wilson, director at Microsoft's Security Response Center, attempted to play down the problem. "At this point in time this is considered by the industry to be a moderate issue," she said. "It's not an issue that's attacking customers in a broad way at all."
However, Wlson's confidence seems a tad misplaced, as she concedes she is unable to estimate how many users have been hit. Meantime, Microsoft is working with makers of antivirus and other security software to limit the contagion.
"We are working with law enforcement [agencies] to assist them in their investigation to determine what criminal elements are responsible," she said.
Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff