Late appearance by Code Red internet 'worm' leaves most websites unscathed

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The computer virus Code Red made a late assault on the internet last night but fears of an infection of computer systems around the world proved unfounded.

About 115,000 computers connected to the internet running some Microsoft systems were infected by yesterday afternoon, according to a US-based think-tank. At least one website in Britain appeared to have been affected.

Its impact has fallen well short of the havoc caused by Code Red's crippling first appearance on 19 July when more than 250,000 systems were infected in its first nine hours.

This time, most of the world escaped the worm, which was programmed to sneak into company websites and deface them, then make those computers attack others.

Home computers are not affected. But Code Red appears to have breached the security at a small firm in Luton, Bedfordshire, as well as websites in the US, Taiwan, Germany, Korea, Hong Kong and Israel.

As the working day started in the US, more infections were expected, and at least one mutation of the virus was thought to have been found as a Utah university's website was defaced with an obscene message about the US government.

Experts said they had detected the worm in Luton because it was sending out thousands of signals from the town in an attempt to find other computers to infect.

The unidentified Luton company was likely to be small because its website was using a "dial-up" connection, meaning it was not online all the time, said Richard Walters, of security specialists Articon-Integralis. "It could be a small company or a private user who works from home," Mr Walters said. Most world companies at risk from the virus appear to have protected themselves with a "patch" from Microsoft, which protects its software.

The Home Office said: "Fears that the worm would have a potentially devastating effect seem to be unfounded. Monitoring showed that the worm started its scanning routine as forecast but there was no discernible impact on the infrastructure of the internet. "In the UK, levels of activity by the worm were very slight and the internet remains robust and safe to use. This does not mean that system owners can be complacent, and system administrators should ensure that their systems are adequately protected from Code Red by installing the freely available patch from Microsoft."

Graham Cluley, of Sophos Anti-Virus, said: "The experts will pat themselves on the back saying the warnings worked, but I get the feeling that it was a little bit over the top."