OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A computer software virus that uses an electronic love note to lure e-mail users into opening it shut down e-mail systems in many Oklahoma state government agencies.
"We are shut off from the outside world right now," Nico Gomez, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, said Thursday a few hours after the "love bug" infected computers in the agency that administers millions of dollars in Medicaid healthcare claims.
"It didn't crash the system, but it caused a lot of havoc," Gomez said. "It's like a squirrel that got loose in the house --we've got it cornered, and now we're trying to get it out."
He said core operating systems were not affected by the virus and that there will be no interruption in claims payments.
Many state agencies, including the Department of Corrections and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, were forced to shut down their e-mail systems and create electronic firewalls to monitor incoming messages and block the computer software virus.
"A number of people got flooded with these bogus messages," said Rosemary Brown of the Mental Health Department. "We scrambled to close down our e-mail system and stop the infection."
Brown said the virus infected about 85 percent of the agency's 1,400 computer work stations but that an assessment of permanent damage was not complete. Core systems that store financial data and client service information were not affected.
The virus, which crippled government and corporate computer systems around the world, targets computers running on Microsoft's Windows operating system, attacking the Outlook e-mail program and the Internet Explorer browser, both of which are also made by Microsoft.
Brown said the virus is disguised as a message apparently from someone the receiver knows. The e-mail has a subject line reading "ILOVEYOU" and a message saying "kindly check the attached LOVELETTER coming from me." The virus is activated by opening the "LOVELETTER" attachment.
"Everybody wants to be loved," Brown said.
"I was one of those people that made the mistake of trying to open it up. It looks like my computer is going to have to be rebuilt," said Norma Vincent, public information officer for the Office of Employment Security.
She said the e-mail system that serves about 1,500 computers tied into the agency's network was also shut down. The virus will not affect the distribution of state unemployment checks, she said.
Terri Angier, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, said the agency uses a different operating system and was relatively unaffected.
"We feel very fortunate," Angier said. "We started to get some unofficial warning this morning. The system itself started giving us some messages that were unusual."
The Oklahoma Transportation Authority, which uses the Outlook e-mail program, had more trouble, Angier said.
"They started to shut down their system also for several hours and work manually to not let the virus extend anymore than it had," she said. OTA lost some graphics programs, but they were quickly reloaded into the computers and there was no damage, she said.
"It's more annoying than it is anything else," Gomez said. "It hasn't really interrupted any operations. We're still able to work claims."