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Asia grapples with the set-to-explode worm

Singapore, Aug. 14 (Reuters): From Korean housewives unable to order nappies online to government departments forced to shut down computers, Asia grappled today to contain spreading varieties of a computer “worm” that threatens to explode over the weekend.

Authorities in Hong Kong, South Korea and Australia fear new strains of the malicious Blaster programme are working their way through cyberspace, and could be more harmful than the original. The worm causes a computer to crash and infects other computers on the web. Experts say other forms may lie dormant inside some computers, programmed to burst into life on Saturday.

The worm, also called MSBlaster or LoveSan, infected office and home computers in the US on Monday and quickly spread around the world, taking advantage of a security hole discovered last month in Microsoft Corp’s Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows NT and Windows Server 2003 operating systems.

Patches for the hole, except for Windows NT 4.0, which the company no longer supports, were put online by Microsoft at its website (http://www.microsoft.com).

At least 230,000 computers were infected by Blaster, according to a sample by anti-virus vendor Symantec Corp, while Moscow-based anti-virus provider Kaspersky Labs put the number closer to 300,000. In Seoul, where officials said two variants of the worm had been reported, a mother complained of being unable to buy diapers for her toddler online.

“It’s very annoying because I have to reset everything,” she said. “The problem is not that easy because I’m having difficulty downloading the patch because of a disrupted connection.”

South Korea, which reported about 8,000 infections, has the world’s highest number of rapid broadband Internet connections per person. It also has 15 million PCs that run Windows operating systems.

The rate of reported cases dropped as of yesterday afternoon, said Han Myoung-gok, marketing director at web security firm Hauri, but there would be no let-up in vigilance.

“Yet another variation was released today and so things remain tense. We’re not relaxing yet,” he said.

Besides spreading and crashing machines, the MSBlaster worm leaves instructions for the infected computer to launch a so-called denial of service attack this Saturday against Microsoft’s website, from where people can download patches.

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