BOSTON (Reuters) - Fears that a computer virus might cut Internet access around the world appeared to be overblown on Monday after U.S. authorities removed a safety net that had protected infected machines for months.
Shortly after midnight EDT, the authorities cut off computer servers in New York City that had been put in place to direct traffic for infected computers, which would have been unable to access the Internet without their help.
Some blogs and news reports had warned that the shutdown of the servers could trigger a potential “blackout” and described the malicious software as the “Internet Doomsday” virus.
But the virus lacked the strength that some had feared.
“I don’t expect much noise today,” said Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F Secure, a computer security firm based in Finland.
Victims of the virus originally required assistance because the virus had changed settings on their PCs, diverting Internet traffic through rogue servers that showed them advertisements. Police them shut down in November.
Infected machines would have been unable to access the Web unless they were repaired, so authorities put the backup system in place as a stopgap measure.
As of Sunday the number of machines using the clean servers was down to 211,000, with about 42,000 in the United States, according to the FBI.
That is a tiny fraction of the world’s more than 1 billion Internet users, said Luis Corrons Granel, technical director with the research lab of anti-virus software maker Panda Security. “Not a big impact,” he said.
The number of users who actually lost Internet service was likely far fewer than the 211,000 who accessed the temporary server on Sunday, said Hypponen, of F Secure.
That is because many Internet service providers, including AT&T Inc and Time Warner Cable, set up their own servers so their customers with infected machines could continue to access the Internet.
“It’s the 9th of July, and the Internet has not exploded into bits and pieces,” remarked one Twitter user.
The United States has charged seven people with orchestrating the worldwide Internet fraud. Six were arrested in Estonia, while the seventh, who was living in Russia, is still at large. Estonia has extradited two of the men to New York, where they appeared in Manhattan federal court.
The case is USA v. Tsastsin et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 11-cr-878.
Reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston; Additional reporting by Basil Katz in New York and Niklas Pollard in Stockholm; Editing by Dan Grebler