Worm attacks Kingsport school computers

Rick Wagner • Mar 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — A computer worm that attacked Kingsport City Schools computers will delay nine-week report cards at some elementary schools.

The worm — which tries to move from one computer to others in a system, unlike a virus, which attacks just one computer — also may mean delays for parents or others who have tried to e-mail teachers or others with school system e-mail addresses.

Amy Greear, spokeswoman for the school system, said Tuesday the Conficker worm infected the KCS computer system beginning March 12 and by March 13 had disrupted general operation of the computer system, which includes servers and about 3,000 personal computers.

Since teachers did not have access to their e-mail for much of that week, Greear said report cards would be issued on a school-by-school basis as grades are ready. The cards were to have gone out Thursday.

“It was right before spring break,” Greear said. “It’s not just our e-mail. It’s actually in our servers. At times, we weren’t able to use our computers at all.”

Greear said the worm has not corrupted any data files of the school system, but the technology department had to take the system offline and do patches on each individual computer, a time-consuming process.

Software caught the worm as it infected the system, but Greear said computer technicians still don’t know how Conficker got into the system. She said it could have been via e-mail or in a USB flash drive used to import or export a document into a school computer.

As of Tuesday afternoon, most Central Office and teacher computers were functioning, but student-used computers were not, Greear said.

Until further notice, all flash drives, laptops, USB port devices and other such devices from students are banned from school buildings, and teachers must have school computer specialists scan such devices before they bring them into the school system.

For those who may have been infected with the worm on their home or other computers, the school system has posted two patches on its Web site: www.k12k.com.

The worm — also known as Downup, Downadup and Kido — first emerged in October 2008. It attacks Microsoft Windows systems. Microsoft issued a patch to close vulnerability for the worm in October, but Greear said that patch did not work on all computers the school system has.

She said Apple computers apparently are not affected by the worm.

Other school systems have been affected by the worm, as well as about 15 million computers worldwide, Greear said.

If unchecked, the worm eventually uses infected computer systems to send out mass e-mails to propagate itself, but so far Greear said no such mass e-mails have emerged from the KCS computer system.

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