The 2003 Slammer Virus That Took The Whole Internet Offline

Grace Higgins | September 29th, 2020

An infamous virus that to this day remains a complete mystery wreaked havoc on the world in 2003. Within 10 minutes it infected over 400,000 computers total, and within 40 minutes it doubled its population. Crucially the computer virus infected five of the thirteen root DNS servers, which crippled the world’s internet. In fact, most of the internet went down for over a week.

London based market intelligence company Mi2g believes that over $950 million to $1.2 billion was lost due to lost productivity. The beauty of the virus was due to how simple it was, it is considered to this day one of the fastest spreading viruses. As a result, the code that started the virus was extremely small. Meaning it was a very small file size and could spread quickly. The exploit lived entirely in the computer’s memory, which meant just rebooting the computer removed it. It made no actual changes to the disk or make any changes to the system at all.

The reason it shut down the internet was that it was spamming the network to spread. When the Slammer virus infects a computer it begins sending its exploit with the worm code to random IPs, essentially, to infect new targets.

In North America, Windows XP activation servers had to be taken offline, along with Continental Airlines going back to pens and papers for records. Banks were hit the worst of all, ATMs stopped working entirely. Even the U.S. Department of State, Agriculture, and Commerce and Defense was hit by the worm. Worryingly, the virus even made its way into the David-Besse nuclear plant in Ohio. In Asia, the whole of South Korea’s internet went offline causing billions of potential revenue to be lost. Europe was not hit as hard, though Portugal reported over 300,000 customers of Cable ISP Netcabo losing the internet.

The crazy thing is, nobody knows who made this virus. It is a complete mystery. Some authorities believe it to be based on code or concepts created by Benny who was part of the virus magazine 29A during the 90s and early 2000s. However, 29A members do not release their viruses into the wild, so this is unlikely.

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