Feeds

Houston justice system laid low by Conficker worm

They have a problem

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

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. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
NOT OK GOOGLE: Android images can conceal code
It's been fixed, but hordes won't have applied the upgrade
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, claims watchdog
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.