Computer Security: Fighting Malware Attacks

The Problem: In the midst of a series of malware attacks, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia needed to secure its PCs.

The Details: The hospital runs a mix of servers, PCs, thin clients and clinical systems with “every operating system ever known,” says Tim Conners, systems manager of desktop engineering. Some Macs and PCs are used by researchers who work temporarily at the hospital on projects, so as research projects change, so do the number of machines the hospital manages.

When Conners started his job in November 2004, there was no reliable way to find, update or patch the hospital’s desktops. Having a system that is planned and implemented improperly is “like throwing darts in the dark,” he says. The shortcoming was attributed to a shaky implementation of Novell’s ZenWorks, which couldn’t always verify that a security patch or a software update had reached its destination because ZenWorks had been improperly installed. According to Conners, the hospital’s I.T. staff had rushed to install it—in what felt like a weekend, he says—without documenting processes and procedures at a time when the hospital was growing fast. Novell says it wasn’t involved with installing ZenWorks at the hospital and didn’t find out about the problems until after they occurred. Novell adds that the hospital declined its offer of services to fix the problems.

By May 2005, Conners says, he’d pulled together an engineering crew, which started to standardize the hospital’s 9,000 PCs by replacing them with new machines from Lenovo. Figuring out what to do about the systems management software was next on the list. But that summer, malware attacks required his team to work 20-hour days for 14 weeks to respond. No data was compromised, he says, but the attacks emphasized the need to quickly fix or replace ZenWorks.

The Solution: LANDesk’s Management Suite from LANDesk in South Jordan, Utah; it was installed last October after planning for a year. Conners didn’t want to repeat the experience with ZenWorks. “Planning with systems management software paid off more than with any other product I’ve done,” he says. The hospital chose LANDesk because it was designed to work with management tools built into the Lenovo PCs and did more out of the box such as picking the best available network connection for individual users than its competitors. Time saved in performing routine chores like patching also allowed the team to focus more on other jobs, like managing the hospital’s clinical systems.

The Result: The installation of LANDesk wasn’t problem-free, either, but succeeded, says Karl Sartor, LANDesk’s account representative. LANDesk redesigned the way the software was implemented at Children’s Hospital, partly because the hospital had trouble keeping track of the amount of data generated by LANDesk when all its features were turned on. The hospital focused first on its two most important needs getting an inventory of its PCs and keeping them patched and decided to worry about managing the other features later.

Fighting the malware attacks in 2005 turned out to be good experience for installing LANDesk, Conners says, because his team learned which systems they had, which ones worked and who had administrative rights. (Ultimately, they discovered the hospital had 8,500 PCs.)

In May, after Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday, the hospital tested and installed security patches on all its systems within four days. Without LANDesk, Conners says, the process would have taken weeks. He declines to say what the hospital spent on the software, but says I.T. organizations should not be afraid to consider upgrading or replacing their systems.

“People say they’ve spent a lot of money, but every summer when kids are out of school, how many new viruses come out?” he says. “You’ve got to know what’s out there, and how to react.”