Feeds

Houston justice system laid low by Conficker worm

They have a problem

Intelligent flash storage arrays

The justice system in Houston was thrown into disarray late last week after the infamous Conficker (Downadup) worm infected key systems.

The infection forced municipal courts in the Texan city to shut down on Friday, and police had to temporarily stop making arrests for minor offences, such as those for outstanding traffic warrants or minor drug possession. "The people we pull over with outstanding traffic warrants will be issued a citation rather than being taken to jail," explained Houston Police Department spokesman John Cannon. "Anyone suspected of a violent crime will be taken to jail. We’re not cutting back on that."

Meanwhile, bail bonds agencies report that the process of releasing prisoners and handling bond payments has slowed to a crawl.

Problems with Houston's municipal systems started on Wednesday, as computers slowed down while staff struggled to access some files, according to local reports. The problem grew progressively worse. Court staff were forced to resort to pen and paper backup systems before Mayor Bill White ordered the courts to close early on Friday afternoon and stay shut over the weekend, when cases would normally be heard.

Administrators expect the disruption to extend into Monday, and possibly later. Court hearings will be postponed but the public offices of the courts will be open to handle fine payments and public inquiries.

Representatives of the Houston IT department said that the computer infection has been contained within the municipal court and parking management systems. Other systems have been quarantined as a precaution. Emergency response systems, for example, are up and running but operating as a stand-alone system so that emergency dispatch requests are being made by radio calls rather than through computers.

Officials reckon that the infection has been contained to 475 machines on Houston's 16,000 computer network, The Houston Chronicle reports. The city paid $25,000 to call in external security consultants Gray Hat Research to help sort out the mess on Friday. Janis Benton, the city’s deputy director of information technology, named the Conficker worm as the probable cause of the infection.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the shutdown of the municipal court computer system is only the latest chapter in a string of problems to befall the system since it was commissioned in April 2006. The $10m system was blamed for delaying court proceedings in 2006. After threatening a lawsuit, the city agreed a $5m settlement with contractor with Maximus.

Conficker, which exploits unpatched Windows machines and network shares to spread, among other techniques, has infected 10 million computers worldwide. Enterprises have been hardest hit by the infection, with the health department in New Zealand, hospital systems in Sheffield and defense systems in France among those affected. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
You really need to do some tech support for Aunty Agnes
Free anti-virus software, expires, stops updating and p0wns the world
USB coding anarchy: Consider all sticks licked
Thumb drive design ruled by almighty buck
Attack reveals 81 percent of Tor users but admins call for calm
Cisco Netflow a handy tool for cheapskate attackers
Privacy bods offer GOV SPY VICTIMS a FREE SPYWARE SNIFFER
Looks for gov malware that evades most antivirus
Patch NOW! Microsoft slings emergency bug fix at Windows admins
Vulnerability promotes lusers to domain overlords ... oops
Oi, Europe! Tell US feds to GTFO of our servers, say Microsoft and pals
By writing a really angry letter about how it's harming our cloud business, ta
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management
How using vulnerability assessments to identify exploitable weaknesses and take corrective action can reduce the risk of hackers finding your site and attacking it.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.