Computer virus hobbles state Legislature
Just when the Legislature's key money committees are starting to crunch numbers, a virus has hit its computer system, halting some computers and slowing the entire system.
The House and Senate clerks, Pat Mau-Shimizu and Carol Taniguchi, sent out a "High Priority" memo to all 76 legislative offices and the Legislative Reference Bureau on Thursday describing the virus attack.
"The Legislature's work is still being completed and data is still preserved. However, the Legislative network is still not operating smoothly," the memo read.
Computer technicians said the virus spread to a computer server that stores all the passwords used by legislators and their staff.
"As a result, a change in all user passwords will be a part of the resolution," the memo said.
Mau-Shimizu said software designed to protect against unwanted e-mail started registering extremely high numbers of e-mail with viruses attached over the weekend.
"We went from an average of 300 e-mails to more than 37,000," she said.
By Tuesday the system was bogged down, and computers had stopped working.
"On my computer, one-third of the screen was blocked with a virus alert, and I couldn't work," Mau-Shimizu said, adding that the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the House Finance Committee were both bogged down by the virus.
Clerks and legislative aides found they had to abandon their internal system and track bills by going to the Legislature's public system on the Internet at www.capitol.hawaii.gov.
Marian Grey, legislative aide to Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai), said she has been unable to use the internal bill-tracking system to summarize legislation.
"I have been just frantic. I can't do my work," she said.
Nina Fisher, office manager for Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, said this was the first time that a virus attack had stopped portions of the Legislature's computer system.
"This morning, I was trying to research the state Judiciary budget, and I couldn't pull up anything," she said.
Mau-Shimizu said that 10 years ago the legislative computer system was hit over the Memorial Day weekend by a coordinated attack that targeted government systems across the country.
Computer technicians have not been able to tell whether the current virus was a targeted assault or just a random attack. They speculate that the virus entered either through an infected laptop that was plugged into the system or by someone opening an infected e-mail.
"The most important thing is that no data has been compromised, and we have not lost any information," Mau-Shimizu said.