Hackers use Y2K bug as a smokescreen

Bill Goodwin reports

@ Computerweekly, © 1999 Reed Business Information Limited

Security experts warn that cyber-criminals will exploit the millennium bug as a cover for hacking and virus attacks.

Businesses should brace themselves for an outbreak of sophisticated computer viruses as the year 2000 approaches, computer security experts warned last week.

A new generation of viruses that cause havoc by re-setting the central clocks of mainframes and PCs could strike before the end of the year, IT security firm mi2g claimed.


The warning comes amid rising concern among some IT managers that cyber-criminals or disgruntled staff could exploit the millennium bug as cover for hacking or virus attacks.

"Companies could be hit by thousands of viruses. They cannot assume it will be business as normal," said Martyn Emery, director of year 2000 consulting firm Corporation 2000.

"It may be that companies will have to disable their e-mail systems for the first seven days of the New Year," he added.

DK Matai, managing director of mi2g said the company has already shown that it is technically possible to write a virus that can attack the internal clock - one of the most vulnerable parts of a computer system.

An attack on a computer system that is not year 2000 compliant could lead to a serious malfunction, causing loss of data and damaging businesses, he warned.

Even when systems are Y2K compliant, moving a clock forward will cause software licences, passwords, user accounts and files to fail.

Stopped dead

In one test, the production line of a major car manufacturer ground to a halt when the clock was rolled forward to January 2000. The robotics systems stopped dead with no way to recover them, said Matai.

Although many organisations are highly aware of IT security, the internal clock remains a vulnerable part of most computer systems.

There are no off-the-shelf packages to protect the internal clock. Companies would have to develop their own software to monitor clocks and issue alerts when anything was changed, Matai warned.

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