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Hackers Spread Virus, Force Shutdown of Gaston County E-Mails

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GASTONIA, N.C. — Gaston County government e-mails have beenblacklisted after hackers used them to spread viruses, authoritiessaid.

A breach in security caused several entities to block e-mailcoming from Gaston County government addresses, effectivelyblacklisting them, said county computer network officials.

The city of Gastonia, the state of North Carolina and AmericaOnline all blocked county government e-mails. The Internet alsolists the county's addresses as dangerous.

"This happens to a lot of businesses," said Sheila Courtney,the county's interim director of information technology."Companies have to protect themselves, so they place suspecte-mails on spam lists or blacklist them."

People using the e-mail from one of the servers that blacklistedthe county can send e-mail to the Gaston addresses, but the countycannot send messages back to them.

Computer hackers apparently obtained e-mail addresses from thecounty's server and used them to spread viruses, a method Courtneysaid was called "spoofing."

"We have to call all of these entities and explain to them thatwe are a legitimate government agency and that we need to be takenoff of the list," Courtney said. "Some of them won't do it unlessthey can verify who you are."

The e-mail problem caused more frustration than real problems,Assistant County Manager Bill Beasley said. AOL's decision to blockGaston County e-mail created the biggest hassle because so many usethat service, Beasley said.

To get the e-mail addresses off of the blacklists, the county'sprovider must have a service called reverse lookup, which allowse-mail recipients to confirm its source and whether it containsharmful viruses. The current provider doesn't offer reverse lookup,leaving Gaston County in a lurch until a new Internet provider canbe chosen, Courtney said.

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