By Paul F. Roberts
August 18, 2005
A round of Internet worm infections knocked 13 of DaimlerChrysler's
U.S. auto manufacturing plants offline for almost an hour this week,
stranding some 50,000 auto workers as infected Microsoft Windows
systems were patched, a company spokesperson told eWEEK.
Plants in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Delaware and Michigan
were knocked offline at around 3:00 PM on Tuesday, stopping vehicle
production at those plants for up to 50 minutes, according to
spokesperson Dave Elshoff.
The company has patched the affected Windows 2000 systems, but is
still mopping up after the attack and doesn't know whether deliveries
from parts suppliers, who were also affected, might be delayed, he
"The effect was not insignificant," he said.
The news from DaimlerChrysler is just the latest in a string of
announcements from major U.S. corporations who have been hit by worms
with names such as Zotob, RBot and IRCBot.
The New York Times, SBC Communications Inc., ABC Inc. and CNN (of 2005
Cable News Network LP, LLLP) have also said they were hit by the
worms, and the full list of those affected is believed to be much
Customer support workers at SBC were forced to work without their
computers while IT staff at the company patched Windows systems that
kept rebooting as a result of worm infections that spread across the
whole company, said Wes Warnick, a spokesperson at the San Antonio,
Texas, telecommunications company.
At DaimlerChrysler, the effects were more dramatic. Assembly lines at
13 plants stopped while staff attempted to patch Windows systems that
are integral to the manufacturing process, he said.
More than 50,000 assembly line workers were forced to cease work
during the outages, which ranged from 5 to 50 minutes, but no workers
were sent home. The impact of the shutdown was also mitigated by a
shift change that normally happens at 3:00 PM, Warnick said.
The company, which has headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, is still
counting the total number of vehicles that it lost as a result of the
disruption, but plans to make up the lost production over time, he
Elshoff said DaimlerChrysler believes its network was hit with more
than one of the worms, and the company is still feeling the effects of
"I wouldn't characterize our operations as out of the woods yet,"
Elshoff said. The company's financial services group was also hit by
the recent worms, which caused PC outages there, he said.
The new malicious programs all rely on code that exploits a hole in
the Windows PnP (Plug and Play) service, a common component that
allows the operating system to detect new hardware on a Windows
Microsoft addressed the PnP hole on Tuesday, issuing MS05-039 with its
August patches, a fix rated "critical."
On Wednesday, code for exploiting the hole in Windows 2000 systems
appeared on a well-known security Web site. By late Saturday, somebody
had combined that exploit with code for spreading across the Internet
and created Zotob.A.
To date, at least 19 different kinds of malicious software have been
identified that exploit the PnP hole, including at least five variants
of Zotob and new versions of malicious programs like IRCbot and SDbot,
according to F-Secure Corp., an anti-virus software firm in Helsinki,
The most recent worms caused the most damage to companies, which use
Windows 2000 more than home users.
DaimlerChrysler is still dealing with suppliers that are also dealing
with infections, but does not know whether there will be any
disruption in supplies and parts from those third-party companies,
Zotob isn't the first virus to hit the car maker, but Elshoff defended
DaimlerChrysler's approach to security.
"You're only as good as your IT security. I think we play pretty good
defense," he said.
However, the company is "Monday morning quarterbacking" and looking
into the outbreak to see if changes need to be made in the way
software patches are distributed, he said.
Some companies may have deprioritized patching because of a recent
draught of high-profile worms and viruses, said John Pescatore, a vice
president at analyst firm Gartner Inc.
"There hasn't been a major worm since Sasser [in April 2004]. We've
been seeing signs of complacency about patching," he said.
A similar drop-off in worms in 2002 is also believed to have lulled IT
staff into relaxing about patches, which led to a number of widespread
outbreaks in 2003, such as SQL Slammer and Blaster, he said.
Flashy worms like Blaster and Sasser may have been scarce in the last
year, but there has been no drought of automated attacks, said Alan
Paller, director of research at The SANS Institute.
Noisy attacks are easy to stop, so attackers just adopted stealthy,
low-profile, means of compromising networks.
"When all they want is 10,000 zombie machines, what difference does it
make if it takes three years instead of three days?" Paller said.
Sept 16-18th, 2005
San Diego, California