Computer glitch affects police, school computers

jkegley@herald-leader.comApril 22, 2010 

Networked computers around the world, including many in Kentucky state and local governments, were shut down Wednesday as a precaution against a glitch in a popular antivirus program.

The glitch apparently began with an update to McAfee security software for corporate customers, which is widely used in the state. The update, posted by the company at 9 a.m. Wednesday, identified a normal Microsoft Windows file as a virus, causing computers to continuously reboot.

Computers in Lexington's City Hall and police department, and in Kentucky public school districts and universities, were affected by the update, which was sent automatically to McAfee users.

As technicians scrambled to get fixes in place, officials were advised to turn off their systems. "Luckily, our pencils still worked," said Lisa Deffendall, spokeswoman for Fayette County public schools.

Deffendall said all 15,000 computers in the school system were shut down, but not before the glitch was downloaded onto nearly 2,700 machines. Technicians were at work repairing them by 4 p.m. Wednesday.

All Kentucky public schools were affected by the glitch because they use the same network, said Lisa Gross, Kentucky Education Department spokeswoman. A temporary solution was running by late afternoon, Gross said.

A release from Mayor Jim Newberry's office said that 125 computers — "9 percent" of the city's desktops — were affected, and that repairs were to continue through Wednesday night. LexCall and emergency calls to 911 were not affected.

Sherelle Roberts, spokeswoman for the Lexington police department, said officers responded to calls the old-fashioned way: by "hand-writing reports, using phones and using radios."

The University of Kentucky, which also uses McAfee, saw the problem in about 40 percent of computers at UK Healthcare, which includes the medical center and medical colleges, said Dr. Carol Steltenkamp, chief medical information officer.

Steltenkamp said the staff trains periodically for widespread computer crashes, and the biggest impact was that staff had to communicate by walking to co-workers or calling them.

Within Kentucky's state government, about 1,000 computers were affected, though not all were immobilized, said Cindy Lanham, a spokeswoman for the state Finance and Administration Cabinet. Among agencies affected were the finance, health and family services, tourism and transportation cabinets, plus the Department for Local Government, Lanham said.

Lanham said no information was lost or hacked as a result, adding all data in those systems remained secure.

State police Trooper John Hawkins, who works at the police headquarters in Frankfort, said the department shut down computers around noon. He said being without mobile computers in state police cruisers wasn't a big hindrance because connectivity is "splotchy" in rural Kentucky anyway.

A statement issued by McAfee spokeswoman Tracy Ross said the glitch solely affected computers running Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 3 installed.

The release said McAfee "released an updated virus definition file within hours and are providing our customers detailed guidance on how to repair any impacted systems."

Departments statewide began fixing affected systems around 4 p.m. Wednesday.

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