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[ISN] State Department's warns visa-checking system crippled by computer virus

Forwarded from: William Knowles <wk@xxxxxxx>


By Ted Bridis
September 23, 2003

WASHINGTON - The State Department's electronic system for checking
every visa applicant for terrorist or criminal history failed
worldwide late Tuesday because of a computer virus, leaving the U.S.  
government unable to issue visas.

The virus crippled the department's Consular Lookout and Support
System, known as CLASS, which contains more than 12.8 million records
from the FBI, State Department and U.S. immigration, drug-enforcement
and intelligence agencies. Among the names are those of at least
78,000 suspected terrorists.

In an internal message sent late Tuesday to embassies and consular
offices worldwide, officials cautioned that "CLASS is down due to a
virus found in the system." There was no backup system immediately
available, and officials could not predict how long the outage might

Such an outage would represent the most serious disruption in years to
U.S. government computers from an Internet infection.

State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore said the agency experienced
some computer problems but could not confirm the visa-checking system
was affected.

"We did have some computer problems," she said. "They're working on

Every visa applicant is checked against the names in the CLASS
database. The State Department's automated systems are designed not
even to print a visa until such a check is completed.

It was unclear which computer virus might have affected the system.  
But a separate message sent to embassies and consular offices late
Tuesday warned that the "Welchia" virus had been detected in one
facility. Welchia is an aggressive infection unleashed last month that
exploits a software flaw in recent versions of Microsoft Corp.'s
Windows software.

Collectively, Welchia and a related virus, "Blaster," have infected
hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide, including computers at
the Federal Reserve in Atlanta, Maryland's motor vehicle agency and
the Minnesota Transportation Department.

The State Department has invested heavily in the CLASS system since
the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, more than doubling the number of
names that applicants are checked against. One provision of the
Patriot Act, passed just weeks after the attacks, added FBI records,
including the bureau's violent gang and terrorist database. The list
also includes the names of at least 20,000 people accused of serious
Customs violations and the names of 78,000 suspected terrorists.

"Communications without intelligence is noise;  Intelligence
without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
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