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OIT deals with difficulties

The Office of Information Technology suffered a rough day Tuesday as a hardware snafu stopped many users from receiving e-mail for over eight hours and a new, unrelated virus slammed the University. 

OIT Senior Technical Architect and Strategist Michael Gettes said the e-mail system's woes related to a hardware upgrade currently underway. He said in trying to fix ongoing problems with the upgrade, OIT inadvertently "locked up" the system. 

"What happened last night was a result of attempts at tuning," he said. "You make a change, and you see what happens, and [the delivery shutdown] is apparently the result of that." 

Gettes said the reason e-mail remained off from around 10 p.m. Monday night until 7 a.m. the next morning was that no OIT staff members noticed that e-mail was not being delivered and no user called in to report a problem until the delivery issues had already been noticed. 

He said a new monitoring system would be put in place to reduce future risk of a shutdown. "One of the things we learned [Tuesday] night is things can fail in a way we never expected them to fail," Gettes said, "and I believe by [Wednesday night], we will have things in place that will help us detect it in the future." 

With the failure of the tuning approach, upgrade issues were addressed Wednesday by cutting off all users' access to e-mail altogether. This "reboot" lasted from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and was not formally announced to the University community. Following the reboot, however, Gettes said many of the issues complicating the upgrade should be resolved. 

E-mail strife was just part of OIT's tough Tuesday, however, as a new virus known as Bagle.J hit campus and caused infections of between 75 and 100 computers. OIT Chief Security Officer Chris Cramer said within the first two hours that it was first detectable by OIT anti-viral software at 7 p.m. Tuesday, 11,000 or more copies of Bagle.J were flagged. By Tuesday afternoon, that number had increased to 80,000. 

The Bagle.J virus arrived on campus computers as a ZIP file attachment to e-mails from such pseudo-official addresses as management@duke.edu or support@duke.edu--what Cramer called "a fairly clever piece of social engineering" by virus designers. 

Though its negative effects are somewhat unclear, it can spread rapidly through both e-mail and peer-to-peer connections and Cramer said OIT was notifying users with infected computers to get their computers cleaned. The OIT Help Desk reported about 275 calls from users regarding the virus outbreak. 

A related virus known as Bagle.K debuted Wednesday, the next iteration in an apparent competition between the designers of the Bagle, MyDoom and NetSky viruses. The viruses' creators have been exchanging "trash talk" in messages about each others' viruses, Cramer said.

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