Index

Critical Infrastructure Protection: "ILOVEYOU" Computer Virus Highlights
Need for Improved Alert and Coordination Capabilities (Testimony,
05/18/2000, GAO/T-AIMD-00-181).

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the ILOVEYOU computer
virus, focusing on measures that can be taken to mitigate the effects of
future attacks.

GAO noted that: (1) ILOVEYOU is both a virus and a worm; (2) worms
propagate themselves through networks, and viruses destroy files and
replicate themselves by manipulating files; (3) the damage resulting
from this hybrid is limited to users of the Microsoft Windows operating
system; (4) ILOVEYOU typically comes in the form of an electronic mail
(e-mail) message from someone the recipient knows; (5) when opened and
allowed to run, the virus attempts to send copies of itself to all
entries in all of the recipient's address books; (6) soon after initial
reports of the virus surfaced in Asia, the virus proliferated rapidly
throughout the rest of the world; (7) recognizing the increasing
computer-based risks to the nation's critical infrastructures, the
federal government has taken steps over the past several years to create
capabilities for effectively detecting, analyzing, and responding to
cyber-based attacks; (8) however, the events and responses spawned by
ILOVEYOU demonstrate both the challenge of providing timely warnings
against information based threats and the increasing need for the
development of national warning capabilities; (9) the National
Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) is responsible for serving as
the focal point in the federal government for gathering information on
threats as well as facilitating and coordinating the federal
government's response to incidents impacting key infrastructures; (10)
once an imminent threat is identified, appropriate warnings and response
actions must be effectively coordinated among federal agencies, the
private sector, state and local governments, and other nations; (11)
NIPC has had some success in providing early warnings on threats, but
had less success with the ILOVEYOU virus; (12) for over 2 hours after
NIPC first learned of the virus, it checked other sources in attempts to
verify the initial information, with limited success; (13) NIPC did not
issue an alert about ILOVEYOU on its own web page until hours after
federal agencies were reportedly hit; (14) agencies themselves responded
promptly and appropriately once they learned about the virus; (15) GAO
found that the few federal components that either discovered or were
alerted to the virus early did not effectively warn others; (16) to
prevent future virus attacks, agencies can teach computer users that
e-mail attachments are not always what they seem and that they should be
careful when opening them; and (17) agencies can ensure that up-to-date
virus detection software has been installed on their systems.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  T-AIMD-00-181
     TITLE:  Critical Infrastructure Protection: "ILOVEYOU" Computer
	     Virus Highlights Need for Improved Alert and
	     Coordination Capabilities
      DATE:  05/18/2000
   SUBJECT:  Computer networks
	     Information systems
	     Computer crimes
	     Law enforcement
	     Electronic mail
	     Private sector practices
	     Hackers
	     Computer security
	     Information resources management
	     Computer viruses
IDENTIFIER:  ILOVEYOU Computer Virus
	     Internet
	     Melissa Computer Virus

******************************************************************
** This file contains an ASCII representation of the text of a  **
** GAO Testimony.                                               **
**                                                              **
** No attempt has been made to display graphic images, although **
** figure captions are reproduced.  Tables are included, but    **
** may not resemble those in the printed version.               **
**                                                              **
** Please see the PDF (Portable Document Format) file, when     **
** available, for a complete electronic file of the printed     **
** document's contents.                                         **
**                                                              **
******************************************************************

GAO/T-AIMD-00-181

   * For Release on Delivery
     Expected at
     10 a.m.

Thursday,

May 18, 2000

GAO/T-AIMD-00-181

critical infrastructure protection

"ILOVEYOU" Computer Virus Highlights Need for Improved Alert and
Coordination Capabilities

        Statement of Jack L. Brock, Jr.

Director, Governmentwide and Defense Information Systems

Accounting and Information Management Division

Testimony

Before the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions, Committee on Banking,
Housing and Urban Affairs,
U.S. Senate

United States General Accounting Office

GAO

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for inviting me to participate in today's hearing on the
"ILOVEYOU" computer virus. Accompanying me today is Keith Rhodes, Director
of GAO's Office of Computer and Technology Assessment. As you know, ILOVEYOU
is the latest in a series of Internet-based episodes that have caused
serious disruptions to computer-based operations at both private businesses
and government agencies. While the federal government is working to
implement mechanisms that would help agencies to ward off such an attack, it
was not effective at detecting this virus early on and warning agencies
about the imminent threat. Consequently, most agencies were affected. Some
incurred damage to systems and files and many others spent countless staff
hours fending off the attack and reestablishing e-mail service. Overall,
however, once they learned of the virus, agencies responded promptly and
appropriately.

In addition to discussing the virus, I would like to address its impact on
federal agencies as well as measures that can be taken to mitigate the
effects of future attacks, which promise to be increasingly sophisticated
and damaging and harder to detect.

The ILOVEYOU Worm/Virus

ILOVEYOU typically comes in the form of an e-mail message from someone the
recipient knows with an attachment called LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.VBS. The
attachment is a Visual Basic Script (VBS) file. As long as recipients do not
run the attached file, their systems will not be affected and they need only
to delete the e-mail and its attachment. When opened and allowed to run,
however, ILOVEYOU attempts to send copies of itself using Microsoft Outlook
(an electronic mail software program) to all entries in all of the
recipient's address books. It attempts to infect the Internet Relay Chat
(IRC) program so that the next time a user starts "chatting" on the
Internet, the worm can spread to everyone who connects to the chat server.
It searches for picture, video, and music files and attempts to overwrite or
replace them with a copy of itself. In addition, the worm/virus further
attempts to install a password-stealing program that would become active
when the recipient opened Internet Explorer and rebooted the computer.
However, Internet accounts set up to collect to stolen passwords were
reportedly disabled early in the attack.

The worm/viruses also appeared in different guises-labeled as "Mother's
Day," "Joke," "Very Funny," among others. These variants retriggered
disruptions because they allowed the worm/virus to bypass filters set up
earlier to block ILOVEYOU. At least 14 different versions of the virus have
been identified, according to the Department of Defense's (DOD) Joint Task
Force-Computer Network Defense. One, with the subject header "VIRUS
ALERT!!!", was reportedly even more dangerous than the original because it
was also able to overwrite system files critical to computing functions.

The difference between ILOVEYOU and other recent viruses, such as the
Melissa virus, which surfaced about this time last year, is the speed at
which it spread. Soon after initial reports of the worm/virus surfaced in
Asia on May 4, ILOVEYOU proliferated rapidly throughout the rest of the
world. By 6 p.m. the same day, Carnegie Mellon's CERT Coordination Center
(CERT-CC) had received over 400 direct reports involving more than 420,000
Internet hosts. One reason ILOVEYOU multiplied much faster than Melissa was
that it came during the work week, not the weekend. Moreover, ILOVEYOU sent
itself to everyone on the recipient's e-mail lists, rather than just the
first 50 addressees as Melissa did. The following two figures provide a more
detailed overview of the timelines associated with the introduction of the
virus and the subsequent discovery and notification actions taken by various
entities.

Figure 2: Illustrated Timeline

In addition to hitting most federal agencies-discussed later in my
statement-the worm/virus affected large corporations, such as AT&T, TWA, and
Ford Motor Company; media outlets, such as the Washington Post, Dow Jones,
and ABC news; state governments; school systems; and credit unions, among
many others, forcing them to take their networks off-line for hours.
Internationally, the virus affected businesses, organizations, and
governments, including the International Monetary Fund, the British
Parliament, Belgium's banking system, and companies in the Baltics, Denmark,
Italy, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The bottom line in terms of damage is still uncertain. Initial estimates of
damage from the outbreak ranged from $100 million to over $10 billion
globally. We do not have a basis for commenting on overall loss. While press
reports are full of anecdotal accounts from disparate sectors of the
economy, it is difficult to reliably and precisely estimate factors such as
loss of productivity, lost opportunity costs, reductions in customer
confidence, slow down of technical staff, and loss of information.
Furthermore, as with most security incidents, companies affected are not
likely to fully disclose the true extent of their losses.

Despite Efforts to Enhance Federal Response to Computer Attacks, Agencies
Were Not Effectively Warned About ILOVEYOU

The National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), located in the Federal
Bureau of Investigation, is responsible for serving as the focal point in
the federal government for gathering information on threats as well as
facilitating and coordinating the federal government's response to incidents
affecting key infrastructures. Presidential Decision Directive 63 (PDD 63)
which was signed in May 1998, also specifically charged the NIPC with
issuing attack warnings as well as alerts to increases in threat condition.
This includes warnings to private sector entities.

Developing the capability to provide early warning of imminent cyber-based
threats is complex and challenging but absolutely essential to the assigned
NIPC mission. Data on possible threats-ranging from viruses, to hoaxes, to
random threats, to news events, and computer intrusions-must be continually
collected and analyzed from a wide spectrum of globally distributed sources.
Moreover, once an imminent threat is identified, appropriate warnings and
response actions must be effectively coordinated among federal agencies, the
private sector, state and local governments, and even other nations. It is
important that this function be carried out as effectively, efficiently, and
quickly as possible in order to ensure continuity of operations as well as
minimize disruptions.

To date, the NIPC has had some success in providing early warning about
impending threats. For example, in December 1999, it posted warnings about a
rash of denial-of-service attacks prominently on its website and it offered
a tool that could be downloaded to scan for the presence of the
denial-of-service code. Two months later, the attack arrived in full force,
compromising the services of Yahoo, E-Bay, and other Internet companies.

However, the NIPC had less success with the ILOVEYOU virus. As noted earlier
(in figure 1), the NIPC first learned of the virus at 5:45 a.m. EDT from an
industry source. Over the next 2 hours, the NIPC checked other sources in
attempts to verify the initial information with limited success. According
to NIPC officials, no information had been produced by intelligence,
Defense, and law enforcement sources, and only one reference was located in
open sources, such as Internet websites. The NIPC considers assessment of
virus reports to be an important step before issuing an alert because most
viruses turn out to be relatively harmless or are detected and defeated by
existing antivirus software. According to the NIPC, the commercial antivirus
community identifies about 20 to 30 new viruses every day, and more than
53,000 named viruses have been identified to date. At 7:40 a.m., two DOD
sources notified the NIPC that the virus was spreading through the
department's computer systems, and the NIPC immediately notified the Federal
Computer Incident Response Center (FedCIRC), at GSA, and CERT-CC. FedCIRC
then undertook a rigorous effort to notify agency officials via fax and
phone.

For many agencies, this was too late. In fact, only 2 of the 20 agencies we
spoke with reported that they first learned of the virus from FedCIRC.
Twelve first found out from their own users, three from vendors, two from
news reports, and one from colleagues in Europe. NIPC did not issue an alert
about ILOVEYOU on its own web page until 11 a.m., May 4-hours after many
federal agencies were reportedly hit. This notice was a brief advisory; the
NIPC website did not offer advice on dealing with the virus until 10 p.m.
that evening.

For the most part, agencies themselves responded promptly and appropriately
once they learned about the virus. In some cases, however, getting the word
out was difficult. At DOD, for example, the lack of teleconferencing
capability slowed the JTF-CND response because Defense components had to be
called individually. At the Department of Commerce, cleanup and containment
efforts were delayed because many of the technical support staff had not yet
arrived at work when users began reporting the virus. The National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also had difficulty
communicating warnings when e-mail services disappeared. And while backup
communication mechanisms are in place, NASA officials told us that they are
rarely tested. Justice officials similarly learned that the department
needed better alternative methods for communicating when e-mail systems are
down. Additionally, many agencies initially tried to filter out reception of
the malicious "ILOVEYOU" messages. However, in doing so, some also filtered
out e-mail alerts and communications regarding incident handling efforts
that referred to the virus by name.

Lastly, we found that the few federal components that either discovered or
were alerted to the virus early did not effectively warn others. For
example, Treasury told us that the U.S. Customs Service received an Air
Force Computer Emergency Response Team (AFCERT) advisory early in the
morning of May 4, but that Customs did not share this information with other
Treasury bureaus.

Impact of the ILOVEYOU Outbreak on Federal Agencies

I would like to offer some highlights of our discussions with officials at
individual agencies since they further complete the picture of the response
efforts and damage resulting from ILOVEYOU.

   * The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was inundated with
     about 3 million malicious messages. Departmental components experienced
     disruptions in e-mail service ranging from a few hours to as many as 6
     days, and departmentwide e-mail communication capability was not fully
     restored until May 9. An HHS official observed that "if a biological
     outbreak had occurred simultaneously with this ‘Love Bug'
     infestation, the health and stability of the Nation would have been
     compromised with the lack of computer network communication."
   * At DOD, enormous efforts were expended containing and recovering from
     this virus. Military personnel from across the department were pulled
     from their primary responsibilities to assist. One DOD official noted
     that if such an attack were to occur over a substantial amount of time,
     reservists would have to be called for additional support. Some DOD
     machines required complete software reloads to overcome the extent of
     the damage.
   * At least 1,000 files at NASA were damaged. While some files were
     recovered from backup media, others were not.
   * At the Department of Labor, recovery required over 1,600 employee hours
     and over 1,200 contractor hours.
   * The Social Security Administration required 5 days to become fully
     functional and completely remove the virus from its systems.
   * The Department of Energy experienced a slowdown in external e-mail
     traffic, but suffered no disruption of mission-critical systems. Ten to
     20 percent of DOE's machines nationwide required active cleanup.
   * A vendor's 7:46 a.m. EDT warning to the Federal Emergency Management
     Agency enabled officials there to mitigate damage by restricting the
     packet size allowed through its firewalls until the necessary virus
     prevention software could be upgraded.
   * As of May 10, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) had received
     7,000,000 "ILOVEYOU" messages, compared to a total of 750,000 received
     during the Melissa virus episode. VHA spent about 240 man hours to
     recover from the virus.
   * The Department of Justice estimated spending 80 regular labor hours and
     18 overtime hours for cleanup.
   * Some of Treasury's components required manual distribution of updated
     virus signature files because automated means for rollout of software
     updates were not in place.
   * The Department of Agriculture could not obtain the updated antivirus
     product it needed until after 1 p.m., in part because it had to compete
     with all of the vendor's other customers worldwide to obtain the
     updates.
   * Effective user awareness programs were cited at the Department of
     Commerce, Treasury's Bureau of Public Debt, and the Department of
     Justice, where many infected messages were received but few were
     executed because users tended to be suspicious of unexpected and
     unusual e-mail messages and were not likely to open them.

Further Actions Required

Such concerns highlight the need to improve the government's capacity and
capability for responding to virus attacks. Clearly, more needs to be done
to enhance the government's ability to collect, analyze, and distribute
timely information that can be used by agencies to protect their critical
information systems from possible attack. In the ILOVEYOU incident, NIPC and
FedCIRC, despite their efforts, had only a limited impact on agencies being
able to mitigate the attack.

At the same time, agencies can also take actions that would improve their
ability to combat future virus attacks. For example, they can act to
increase user awareness and understanding regarding unusual and suspicious
e-mail and other computer-related activities. In particular, agencies can
teach computer users that e-mail attachments are not always what they seem
and that they should be careful when opening them. Users should never open
attachments whose filenames end in ".exe" unless they are sure they know
what they are doing. Users should also know that they should never start a
personal computer with an unscanned floppy disk or CD-ROM in the computer
drive.

Strengthening intrusion detection capabilities may also help. Clearly, it is
difficult to sniff out a single virus attached to an e-mail coming in but if
100 e-mails with the same configuration suddenly arrive, an alert should be
sounded. Furthermore, agencies can clarify policies and procedures for
reporting and responding to unusual events and conduct "dry runs" on these
procedures. They can ensure that up-to-date virus detection software has
been installed on their systems. They can establish effective alternative
communication mechanisms to be used when e-mail systems are not operating
properly. And they can participate in interagency efforts to prepare for and
share information on cyber threats, such as those sponsored by FedCIRC.

While such actions can go a long way toward helping agencies to ward off
future viruses, they will not result in fully effective and lasting
improvements unless they are supported by strong security programs on the
part of individual agencies and effective governmentwide mechanisms and
requirements. As noted in previous testimonies and reports, almost every
federal agency has poor computer security. Federal agencies are not only at
risk from computer virus attacks, but are also at serious risk of having
their key systems and information assets compromised or damaged from both
computer hackers as well as unauthorized insiders.

We have recommended that agencies address these concerns by managing
security risks on an entitywide basis through a cycle of risk management
activities that include

   * assessing risks and determining protection needs,
   * selecting and implementing cost-effective policies to meet those needs,
   * promoting awareness of policies and controls, and
   * implementing a program of routine tests and examinations for evaluating
     the effectiveness of these tools.

At the governmentwide level, this involves conducting routine periodic
independent audits of agency security programs; developing more prescriptive
guidance regarding the level of protection that is appropriate for their
systems; and strengthening central leadership and coordination of
information security related activities across government.

We performed our review from May 8 through May 17, 2000, in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards. For information about this
testimony, please contact Jack L. Brock, Jr., at (202) 512-6240. Jean Boltz,
Cristina Chaplain, Nancy DeFrancesco, Mike Gilmore, Danielle Hollomon, Paul
Nicholas, and Alicia Sommers made key contributions to this testimony.

(511999)

        Orders by Internet

For information on how to access GAO reports on the Internet, send an e-mail
message with "info" in the body to:

[email protected]

or visit GAO's World Wide Web home page at:

http://www.gao.gov

        Web site: http://www.gao.gov/fraudnet/fraudnet.htm

E-mail: [email protected]

1-800-424-5454 (automated answering system)
  
*** End of document. ***