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   more alarming aspects to the worm. If it managed to break into the

   SYSTEM account, a privileged account, it would block all electronic

   mail deliveries to the system administrator. The SPAN office would not

   be able to send electronic warnings or advice on how to deal with the

   worm to systems which had already been seized. This problem was

   exacerbated by the lack of good information available to the project

   office on which systems were connected to SPAN. The only way to help

   people fighting this bushfire was to telephone them, but in many

   instances the main SPAN office didn't know who to call. The SPAN team

   could only hope that those administrators who had the phone number of

   SPAN headquarters pinned up near their computers would call when their

   computers came under attack.

  

   McMahon's preliminary report outlined how much damage the worm could

   do in its own right. But it was impossible to measure how much damage

   human managers would do to their own systems because of the worm.

  

   One frantic computer manager who phoned the SPAN office refused to

   believe John's analysis that the worm only pretended to erase data. He

   claimed that the worm had not only attacked his system, it had

   destroyed it. `He just didn't believe us when we told him that the

   worm was mostly a set of practical jokes,' McMahon said. `He

   reinitialised his system.' `Reinitialised' as in started up his system

   with a clean slate. As in deleted everything on the infected

   computer--all the NASA staff's data gone. He actually did what the

   worm only pretended to do.

  

   The sad irony was that the SPAN team never even got a copy of the data

   from the manager's system. They were never able to confirm that his

   machine had even been infected.

  

   All afternoon McMahon moved back and forth between answering the

   ever-ringing SPAN phone and writing up NASA's analysis of the worm. He

   had posted a cryptic electronic message about the attack across the

   network, and Kevin Oberman had read it. The message had to be

   circumspect since no-one knew if the creator of the WANK worm was in

   fact on the network, watching, waiting. A short time later, McMahon

   and Oberman were on the phone together--voice--sharing their ideas and

   cross-checking their analysis.

  

   The situation was discouraging. Even if McMahon and Oberman managed to

   develop a successful program to kill off the worm, the NASA SPAN team

   faced another daunting task. Getting the worm-killer out to all the

   NASA sites was going to be much harder than expected because there was

   no clear, updated map of the SPAN network. Much of NASA didn't like

   the idea of a centralised map of the SPAN system. McMahon recalled

   that, some time before the WANK worm attack, a manager had tried to

   map the system. His efforts had accidentally tripped so many system

   alarms that he was quietly taken aside and told not to do it again.

  

   The result was that in instances where the team had phone contact

   details for managers, the information was often outdated.

  

   `No, he used to work here, but he left over a year ago.'

  

   `No, we don't have a telephone tree of people to ring if

   something goes wrong with our computers. There are a whole

   bunch of people in different places here who handle the

   computers.'