January 31, 2003

Computer virus affects VUMC system

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Dr. Drew Gaffney is leading the initiative for electronic safety reporting at Vanderbilt. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Computer virus affects VUMC system

A virus-like Internet worm struck the Vanderbilt community this past weekend, crippling network communication and prompting hospital officials to declare an internal disaster, placing the hospital in full diversion mode.

Clinical workstations throughout the Medical Center were unable to communicate with each other or other services, slowing the admission process, lab results, pharmacy orders and radiology results.

No patient data were lost and VUMC officials quickly opened the Incident Command Center to coordinate repair efforts, staffing and patient concerns.

“I am pleased with how well the disaster response was handled, as it allowed us to avoid any problems with patient health care,” said Dr. William W. Stead, associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs and director of Informatics Center. “The Network Computing Services team did an outstanding job in responding to this network communication crisis. Within a minimal amount of time, they were able to patch and return to service all VUMC network servers that were affected by the virus.”

The W32.Slammer worm, which created chaos around the world last week, took advantage of vulnerability that had been discovered in July in various Microsoft software. Microsoft made software updates available to patch the vulnerability in its SQL Server 2000 software, but many system administrators had yet to install them when the attack hit. As the worm infected one computer, it was programmed to seek other victims by sending out thousands of probes a second, saturating many Internet data pipelines.

Unlike most viruses and worms, it spread directly through network connections and did not need e-mail as a carrier. Thus, only network administrators who run the servers, not end users, could remedy the situation.

“The virus problem we faced during the weekend should serve as a reminder to the University community the importance of maintaining up-to-date software patches on their personal computers and servers,” Stead said.

VUMC Network Computing Services isolated all of the infected servers and disinfected them. Individuals or departments who have found their Microsoft SQL Servers isolated from the network should contact the VUMC Help Desk at 343-4357 for assistance on how to regain network connectivity.

An open critique has been scheduled for Feb. 3 at 3 p.m. in 512 Light Hall.  Those who participated in last week’s response or were affected by the outage are encouraged to attend.  Contact Lynn Meadows, Disaster Recovery Coordinator (6-3947) or Kevin Chenoweth, Administrator, Disaster Recovery (3-5426) for more information regarding the session.