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E-mails and virus slow Web

September 22, 2001

The Nimda computer bug and the reaction to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are creating a traffic jam on the Internet as soaring e-mail volumes slow delivery times, especially for residential users.

Nimda, which first made its mark on Tuesday, is now being billed as the worst computer infestation to date. The computer bug is soaking up as much as 10 per cent of the Internet's capacity, security software firm Network Associates Inc. said yesterday.

"We're beginning to call it a superbug," said Gus Malezis, general manager of the Canadian arm of Network Associates.

Most of Nimda's predecessors have focused their attacks on corporate networks. But this newest computer hybrid bug — part virus, and part "worm" — is just as happy to assault consumer networks.

At the same time, the terrorist attacks in the United States last week have sparked a massive surge in e-mail and traffic on news Web sites, according to Internet service providers and traffic measurement firms.

Rick Broadhead, Internet author and consultant, said his own e-mail service has been "completely clogged" for the past two days and that some messages are taking up to a day and a half to be transmitted, instead of seconds. "It slows e-mail to a crawl."

Sympatico, the ISP owned by Bell Canada,has seen its e-mail traffic jump 15 per cent in just one week — more than 1.5 million additional messages a day — forcing it to install seven new powerful server computers, boosting its capacity by 50 per cent.

Two of those were installed yesterday, as e-mail traffic continued to grow at an increasing rate. "The e-mail traffic is not plateauing," spokesman Andrew Cole said.

Mr. Cole said Nimda is the most important reason for the increase in Sympatico e-mail traffic, with attack-related communications a second cause, and the resurgence of the SirCam virus, which first attacked earlier in 2001. He said Sympatico's own computers have not been infected by the Nimda virus, but that those of its customers have been, creating the additional traffic.

Mr. Malezis said any residential Internet service is vulnerable to the Nimda virus, and that he has had several reports of the virus creating large traffic increases at both cable and telephone line-based services.

Shaw Communications Inc. president Peter Bissonnette said traffic on his firm's network has gone up "quite dramatically," in the neighbourhood of Sympatico's 15-per-cent increase. He said Shaw's own systems have not been affected by Nimda.

Mr. Bissonnette said Shaw's new data centre has a large amount of unused capacity, allowing it to cope easily with the increased volume. "We've got lots of head room."

Telus Corp. spokesman Doug Strachan said volume had surged on his firm's network, with some e-mails not being delivered at all. The problems coincide with the emergence of Nimda, he said.

Rogers Cable Inc. did not comment on traffic patterns on its networks.

In Hong Kong, Nimda and two damaged transpacific telecommunication cables caused widespread disruption to computer networks in Hong Kong, according to a report in the English-language daily South China Morning Post. It affected the productivity of more than 1,000 companies in Hong Kong, as well as government departments and private users, said antivirus software firm Trend Micro.

Nimda combines some of the most insidious features of its predecessors, using e-mail attachments to propagate itself, like the Melissa virus, and spreading itself through infected Web servers, like the Code Red worm. But there is one hidden blessing from Nimda's creator: the bug is relatively compact, limiting the capacity it gobbles up.

Mr. Malezis said a future Web saboteur could stop the Internet in its tracks if a massive computer file — a picture or video, for instance — were appended to the virus.


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