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Computer Worm Crashes Ambulance Fleet Computer System

March 22, 2004

A computer worm crashed the on-board computers in each vehicle of Volusia County's privately run ambulance fleet on the morning of March 14, knocking out high-tech digital maps that calculate the shortest route to an emergency plotted instantly for the rescue workers, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper on March 15.

"While this threw us for a loop, we had a backup system in each ambulance," EVAC spokesman Mark O'Keefe said. "A paper map book."

The worm got through the company's computer-security system, and computers started crashing about 11 a.m. on all 22 ambulances covering Volusia County and its 16 municipalities, O'Keefe said. Although it was an inconvenience, the rescue workers were able to perform their jobs using two-way radios instead of the e-mails they often use to communicate with dispatchers. "It impacted our normal operations, but it did not affect the service to the public," he said.

The culprit was identified as a self-replicating program called the "Blaster" worm, which is similar to a computer virus, O'Keefe said. An incarnation of the "Blaster" was first seen last year and in August when it infected 500,000 computers across the world. Although a Minnesota teenager was arrested and charged with releasing it, incarnations of the program are still on the Internet.

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