The Northside Signpost Web Edition

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

Up Front

Search for extraterrestrials opens door 
for computer virus

Ty Belknap

On August 12, Sandoval County network administrator Roger Williams discovered a “very destructive, fast-moving worm-like computer virus” that had infected the county system on August 11. The virus had reportedly replicated itself very rapidly through more than fifty thousand county files, damaging ten thousand of them. The cost of the disruption in terms of manpower, lost productivity, and equipment was estimated at $50,000.

During the search to find out where the virus had entered the system, officials entered the offices of county clerk Victoria Dunlap and deputy clerk Arthur Hinds, who were both out of town. Their computers were reportedly connected to the internet via Microsoft’s Outlook Express and both were “fried.” They found that Hinds had left his computer running with a screen-saver program that analyzes data from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in a search for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. Hinds was apparently joining hundreds of thousands of people around the world who volunteer their idle computers, which are extremely powerful when combined.

Neither program is authorized by the county because they are susceptible to viruses. County Information Systems staff determined that the computers were tampered with or modified to keep IS staff from access. When Dunlap returned to the courthouse, she expressed displeasure at the fact that her office had been entered and her computers confiscated. She said that there was no proof that the virus came from her office. At her insistence, the computers were returned. David Hawthorne of Placitas Computers volunteered to check the computers out for Dunlap. He reported to the Albuquerque Journal that he found no sign of a virus on the hard drives.

 This is the latest in a series of disputes between Dunlap and other county officials. In April, the IS staff denied Dunlap unlimited access to the AS 400 computer system that contains most county records.

Neither Dunlap, Hawthorne, nor Hinds returned calls from the Signpost. The following memo describing the problem was sent to the Board of County Commissioners and Debbie Hays, the county manager, on August 19 by Planning And Zoning director Michael Springfield.

 

County memo explains virus

—From Sandoval County Administrative Offices

Memorandum from Michael Springfield, Director, Sandoval County Planning Zoning Commission, to Sandoval County Board of Commissioners and Debbie Hays, County Manager

    August 19, 2002

    Subject: Computer Security

    As you are quite aware, Sandoval County sustained a very destructive, fast-moving computer worm-like virus on our Windows-based PC system. The virus replicated itself very rapidly through more than 50,000 County files, damaging 10,000 files. It caused significant disruptions to workflow at a cost in manpower, lost productivity and equipment estimated through midday August 16 to exceed $50,000. Fortunately, the County’s IS staff was able to work in close concert with other elected officials and Department heads to isolate and protect the critical and sensitive data on our AS400, block the County’s system from transmitting the virus to outside users and begin eradicating the virus.

    We are confident the virus entered the County’s system through an open-link connection to a dedicated SETI program that was running on the workstation assigned to the Deputy Clerk. From the SETI site, the worm initialized itself into our software programs and spread throughout the County’s network.

    The unauthorized SETI program links individual computers via an open connection to a search for extraterrestrial life and certainly is not authorized for Sandoval County’s use. Yet, the program had been initiated on Mr. Hinds’ computer. In fact, that computer was running the SETI extraterrestrial program and displayed a message indicating SETI was attempting to contact the County system at the time the virus sweep was being attempted.

    Additionally, the computers assigned to the Clerk and her Deputy blocked administrative access by our Network Administrator. We can only conclude that the virus itself caused that action, or by separate unauthorized security measures and/or software installed on just those two workstations. Those two units could not be accessed to determine the full extent of any damage, checked for virus detection or certified to meet County standards.

    Of the 150 computers on the County’s system, three units blocked access to the network administrator—those assigned to the Clerk, her Deputy, and the Chief of the Bureau of Elections.

    After discussion with Debbie Hays, I authorized our IS staff to isolate and remove the workstations assigned to the Clerk and her Deputy, so we could analyze damage, determine how the virus entered the County system and, hopefully, prevent a future breach of the County’s antiviral and security systems. The third computer that denied administrative access was the workstation assigned to our Bureau of Elections manager. That workstation contained password protection for added security but, again, since that unit had been off-line for two weeks, the IS staff had already removed its connection and believed any virus could be adequately contained.

    Please note that we did take other workstations out of other departments with the full support and cooperation of the elected officials and directors.

    I have been told that an outside consultant retained by the Clerk after the workstations were returned to her last Friday found no evidence of a virus present on her computers. Those two workstations, and the one assigned to Mr. Gutierrez that was off-line for two weeks but certified today, are the only computers within Sandoval County’s system that were supposedly virus-free. The IS staff has concluded that the computers assigned to the Clerk and her Deputy were tampered with or modified to purposely keep our IS staff from accessing those two units.

    At the request of the County Clerk, those two units were returned to the work locations last Friday. However, they will remain isolated from our network and not tied into our system until our Network Administrator can provide assurance that they are free of any virus and comply with County standards.

    As an aside, despite comments in the newspaper that the Clerk was blindsided and not informed of events beforehand, at least one employee in her office discussed the situation with her before our IS staff entered her offices to perform the virus sweep. Additionally, the Clerk told both Gayland Bryant and myself that she, too, had discussed this matter with Arthur Hinds as early as Tuesday—before those two computers were isolated from the network and removed from the worksites.

    I have directed the IS staff to provide the Clerk’s office with any assistance possible until such time as those two computers can be certified as being compliant with the County’s system. In that regard, IS has already provided a separate, compliant computer to the Clerk that is tied into our network. Staff also has performed a security check on her working files and provided her with full access to those flies.

    If you have any questions regarding this matter, please feel free to contact me.

 

Developers seek loophole to bring Wal-Mart to Corrales Road

[Rio Rancho officials find themselves between a rock and a hard place concerning the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter at Corrales Road and NM 528. As much as they need the gross receipts revenues the store would bring, a zoning ordinance stands in the way.]

—reprinted from the Corrales Comment

Neither side has given up in the battle over a Wal-Mart supercenter at the north end of Corrales Road. Two Corrales lawyers, Brad Hays for the landowner who wants to bring in the Wal-Mart, and David Plotsky, working pro bono for the opponents, are preparing for the next clash. That could come Tuesday, August 27 at the Rio Rancho Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, or the next day at the City Council meeting. Opponents are being urged to turn out in strength for those meetings. Hays represented landowner Pat Coughlin during the 1999 neighborhood negotiations that set a 65,000 square foot limit on any future building at the 17.5-acre site near the Corrales Road-Highway 528 intersection.

The Wal-Mart store would take up about 190,000 square feet. Hays is now arguing that the covenants including that restriction should not have been incorporated into the City’s zone change ordinance. But the neighborhood association that signed the covenants with Coughlin back in 1999 is crying foul.

River’s Edge One Neighborhood Association’s (REONA) vice-president Karen Boulanger explained. “Brad Hays, attorney for Patrick Coughlin, has contacted the City of Rio Rancho, challenging the validity and/or legality of the zoning ordinance passed in 1999.

The ordinance in question is the result of the zone map amendment that was passed shortly after the negotiations were finalized between REONA and the property owners at the corner of Highway 528 and Corrales Road. “The conditions of the agreement were in exchange for the approval or acceptance of other changes in zoning that were not allowed under the previous ‘commercial-special use’ restrictions that existed on that property at the time, including the addition of a second gas station and increased signage,” Boulanger pointed out.

“In addition to drafting the compromise agreement as covenants (as suggested by Hays), REONA requested that the conditions of the agreement be included in the zone map amendment. The City accomplished this task by simply attaching the covenant to the ordinance.”

Those negotiations with Coughlin and other landowners which resulted in the covenants that were written into the 1999 zone map amendment were videotaped. That evidence will be part of the opponents’ case for continued enforcement of the covenants as part of the City’s ordinances.

Hays has asked City Attorney James Babin to convince the City Council that the restrictive covenants should never have been given the force of municipal law. Boulanger told members of the Rio Rancho City Council on August 14 that it would be unfair and unethical to toss the covenants from the zone change conditions approved in 1999.

Boulanger said, “We all recognize that the development at this corner is a controversial issue, but REONA adheres to the belief that the zoning and the covenants were negotiated in good faith, are legal, and should not be changed.”

. . . .

Declaring the zoning null and void, and allowing it to revert to its previous zoning has been requested by attorney Brad Hays (given that the considerations have already been received and the gas station is already there) would definitely not be fair or equitable.

“In the simplest of terms, Mr. Coughlin asked for and received consideration in return for the stipulations in the zoning and the covenants. Currently Mr. Coughlin and his lawyers are on the quest to find a legal loophole to avoid upholding his end of the agreement.”

 

Representative Udall optimistic
on pipeline legislation

Saying that it is "long overdue" for Congress to address the issue of pipeline safety, U.S. Representative Tom Udall (D-NM) said last month he believes that members of the House and Senate can join together and send a tough and responsible bill to the President before the year is out. Udall's comments came days before the two-year anniversary of the Carlsbad natural gas pipeline explosion on August 19, 2000, which claimed the lives of twelve people.

"On the second anniversary of the Carlsbad pipeline explosion, we must remember the victims of this tragedy by ensuring that it is never repeated. In the two years since the explosion in Carlsbad— the deadliest pipeline accident in the continental United States in twenty-five years— no legislation has been signed into law addressing pipeline safety," Udall said. "I intend to keep working until we have a stringent piece of legislation that would have prevented this sad chapter in New Mexico history. To not do so would be an insult to those left behind, not to mention potential future victims."

Until tragedy strikes, most people don't think about pipeline safety. Pipelines are buried beneath the ground, out of sight and out of mind. Although pipelines generally provide a safe means of transporting natural gas and hazardous liquids, when a pipeline ruptures, it can spell disaster. Over 2.1 million miles of pipelines run across the United States, many of them running under cities, towns, neighborhoods and playgrounds. In the last ten years, there were over twenty-two hundred major pipeline accidents, resulting in 226 deaths, $700 million in property damage, and untold harm to the environment.

In the case of the Carlsbad accident, twelve vacationing family members, including five children, were killed with no warning whatsoever. The investigation revealed that the section of pipeline that exploded was almost fifty years old, and suffered from substantial internal corrosion. After concluding its investigation of the explosion, the National Transportation Safety Board found that the pipeline had never been properly inspected.

On July 23, the House approved a pipeline-safety bill that contains a number of strong regulations as advocated by Udall and members of the Washington state congressional delegation (Washington suffered its own pipeline explosion in 1999 which took the lives of three young men).

The legislation has increased penalties for violations, tough enforcement by the U.S. Department of Justice, funding for technical assistance to local communities, and increased funding for the Office of Pipeline Safety and state pipeline officials. The bill also contains a pipeline-repair-permitting provision needed to ensure that safety and environmental protections are not placed in conflict. The measure also includes a Udall-supported initiative that provides whistle-blower protections to pipeline company employees who report negligent practices.

Udall said the likely vehicle for pipeline-safety legislation will be the energy bill currently pending in a House-Senate conference committee. The federal lawmaker said the final pipeline compromise must include provisions already included in the Senate's version of the energy bill. Specifically, the Senate bill requires pipeline inspections every five years, as opposed to the House version's ten-year mandate. The Senate bill also fines pipeline operators up to $1 million for safety violations, while the House bill caps the fines at $500,000. Udall also said that he would like the conference agreement to include a community "right to know" section so that citizens would know where pipelines run through their community.

Tom Udall is a member of the House Committee on Resources.

 

Anasazi Fields Winery hosted blues festival

Anasazi Fields Winery in Placitas expanded its annual Gathering of Spirits event into an acoustic blues festival on August 3 and 4. In addition to the music, blues aficionados were treated to live bird shows, goat cheese tasting, winery tours, and wine tasting. Local blues artists Alex Maryol, Thomas Blues, Stan Hirsch, Alpha Blue, and Dennis Dillon performed at the concert, which was a benefit for Wildlife West Nature Park. the audiences, especially the kids, were delighted with the music and humor of Big Momma Ethel and Stagefright Slim, who served as emcees.

Wildlife West Nature Park is a 122-acre enhanced zoo and wildlife refuge in Edgewood. It is a hands-on environmental education center, featuring plants and rescued animals indigenous to the Southwest. The park is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p. m.

Jim Fish of Anasazi Fields commented, “We are very excited by the response to our first blues festival. It was a great community event and we raised over $1000 for the nature park. We are already making plans for an even better festival the first weekend of August next year.”

 

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