Computer virus hits Houston municipal courts

February 6, 2009 8:40:37 PM PST
Three percent of something really isn't that much, unless you're talking about the number of City of Houston computers hit by a virus Friday. It gave a knockout punch to the municipal court system and that will continue until Monday. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Of the city's 16,000 computers, just 475 of them are off-line and that's causing plenty of problems.

The good news is that the virus has been quarantined and the infected computers are being scrubbed, but the virus is still causing problems, even outside the courtroom.

At Capitol Bail Bonds, getting things done hasn't been easy. Ever since the municipal court's computers crashed, agent Rebecca Martinez has run into one problem after another.

"We try to call over there for three, four hours and can't get any information," said Martinez.

That has left her clients, many with simple traffic tickets, stuck behind bars.

"We can't take them out. They're there for like eight to ten hours, just sitting there waiting," said Martinez.

The computer virus first showed up on Wednesday as it spread within the city's main network, attacking mostly within the municipal courts. The infection was so bad that court dockets had to be canceled on Friday. Clients who showed up to have their cases heard were turned away with no notice.

"Aw, man, I just got off of work. That's not good at all," said Melissa Salinas.

The threat of the virus spreading led the Houston Emergency Center to cut itself off from the main network. Dispatchers had to revert to using radios instead of computers. However, officials said no calls were delayed.

"We're doing what we always do and that is to communicate directly with police officers by radio dispatch," said Pat Trahan, spokesperson for the mayor's office.

A team of experts have been called in to eradicate the virus. They suspect it's the notorious Conficker virus which is already creating problems across the world.

"As you know that virus has impacted three million desktops worldwide," said Janis Benton, Deputy Director and CTO of Infrastructure.

It's a virus that Martinez is hoping will be over soon.

"We can't do anything but wait and wait. Maybe tomorrow it will hopefully be up. Who know," said Martinez.

We are told teams will be working over the weekend trying to eradicate the virus. In the meantime, at the Houston Emergency Center, operations are running normally with both radios and computers in use. Below is a information from the city about court operations this weekend:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Courthouse will be closed. All dockets will be reset. All employees are to report to work as scheduled.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Court will be closed. All dockets will be reset. All employees are to report to work as scheduled.

All cases scheduled on these days will be reset by mail for individuals who have court settings. Please note that reset notices will be sent to the last known address of record.

There will be no jury service on Monday, February 9, 2009. Individuals who are scheduled for jury service on Monday, February 9, 2009 will be rescheduled and notified by mail of their new date of service.

These closures are for defendants and jurors only. All city of Houston employees should report to work as scheduled. Online payment services remain available.

Citizens are reminded that payments can be made as follows:

  • Online at ww.houstontx.gov/courts/payfind.html
  • Via Western Union
  • By Mail (P.O. Box 4996, Houston, Texas 77210-4996)

    For more court closure announcements and information visit the court's website at www.houstontx.gov/courts.

    While city officials have not said what kind of virus may be affecting their computers, there has been a particularly malicious program plaguing computer systems over the past two years. It's called the conficker virus, and experts say it has infected nearly nine million computers since it was first unleashed two years ago. More than six million of the recent infections happened just last month.

    The worm targets Microsoft operating systems. Once embedded in a computer, it remotely contacts another computer server and installs more so-called 'malware.'

    Microsoft released a patch to protect against the virus last March.

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